FARGO — Saying it’s already a streamlined machine, the Summit League Joint Council this week decided not to change or eliminate any postseason league championships for the upcoming school year.
That hasn’t been the case across the country, with leagues like the Mid-American Conference canceling eight of its tournaments.
“We want to maintain our conference schedules and we’ve been operating in the past with reduced fields at our championships,” said Summit League commissioner Tom Douple. “We wanted to maintain those as well.”
Baseball, for instance, will remain a four-team tourney but was cut down from four days to three. Soccer will stay at a four-team field while volleyball and softball will stay as six-team events. Volleyball and soccer are getting the most current attention since they are played in the fall.
Douple did say those sports may see differences in attendance with social distance mandates, mainly volleyball because it is played indoors.
“I’m hopeful and optimistic that by then, we’ll have some procedures in place to be able to accommodate some fans,” he said. “It’s going to be different. I think the seating arrangements can be different and we’ll make some adjustments. With soccer being outside, we have a little bit more latitude but it would be volleyball that we have to look at the facilities and see what the campus policies are.”
The Summit is going to leave any decision to having student-athletes back on campus for summer workouts to each school and their respective states. North Dakota State, for instance, is targeting June 1 as a return date.
The Joint Council, which is made up of school athletic directors and senior woman administrators, approved of that philosophy. Douple said the NCAA has also made it clear that any decision to resume offseason workouts will be up to the institution and the state.
The NCAA Division I Council further reiterated that on Wednesday approving voluntary workouts in football, men's basketball and women's basketball starting June 1 and running through June 30, according to Yahoo Sports.
“There may be some inequities of one state that may not be able to open up sooner than the other,” Douple said, “but I don’t think we should hold back the ones that can open up.”
The state of North Dakota has already allowed gyms and health clubs to open with restrictions. South Dakota never did issue a stay-at-home order. Those two states comprise almost half the league with NDSU, North Dakota, South Dakota and South Dakota State.
Nebraska-Omaha is in a state with similar restrictions as North Dakota and South Dakota. Colorado, home to the University of Denver, has closed all summer academic programs, but it's not clear if that means athletes won't be allowed to use the facilities.
The state of Illinois (Western Illinois) is currently at Phase 2 of a five-phase plan. Phase 3 is expected to be implemented next week and Phase 4, which would allow gatherings of up to 50 people, wouldn’t go into effect until 28 days later. Oklahoma (Oral Roberts) is allowing gyms and health clubs to be open.
Douple said his biggest concern is the health and well-being of higher education in general and the possibility of schools getting less funding from state governments.
“Then our athletic departments are after that,” he said.
The Summit is imposing its own cost-cutting measures to try and help member schools. That includes having virtual tournament programs, eliminating on-site media days and pre-tournament banquets, cutting an internship position, making Joint Council and Presidents Council meetings virtual and putting a freeze on salaries. The league may try to disperse more funds from its well-attended men’s and women’s basketball tournaments at the Denny Sanford Premier Center in Sioux Falls, Douple said.
“It’s a tough time for everybody involved, no doubt about that,” he said.
He said there is a concern of one or two sports being dropped from a league member, but that was already being addressed before the COVID-19 pandemic hit.
“And I think you’ll see some schools adding a sport or two as well,” he said.
In other news, Brett McMurphy, a Stadium College Football Insider, reported that one-time transfer waivers (without penalty) won't happen until at least the 2021-22 academic year with the NCAA Division I Council approving a resolution to develop legislation regarding transfer eligibility for January 2021.