FARGO — The COVID-19 pandemic has, piece by piece, dismantled most of college football for this fall. All that remains in the Missouri Valley Football Conference, for instance, is Missouri State, which is playing at Oklahoma and having a two-game home-and-home series with Central Arkansas.
At North Dakota State, there will be no tailgating in the September sun or homecoming in the cool Saturday morning October air.
The focus for athletics and its revenue sports for the rest of 2020 now shifts to men’s and women’s basketball, which so far is on more than it is off. The Bison men did have their Nov. 13 game at UCLA canceled when the Pac-12 Conference eliminated all sports until January, 2021.
NDSU head coach Dave Richman has two layers to his reaction.
“Really disappointing because it’s a historic venue and a school with a lot of history and tradition,” he said. “It was a great opportunity for us to compete. But I also don’t want to sit here, kick and scream and whine with the circumstances that we’re under right now.”
The circumstances begin with Dan Gavitt, the NCAA senior vice president for basketball, who put out a statement on Monday saying the NCAA by mid-September will provide direction about whether the season and practice will start on time or have a short-term delay as necessitated by the pandemic.
"We're trying to get them some answers as soon as possible," said NDSU athletic director Matt Larsen.
The Summit League postponed competition for the fall sports of volleyball, soccer, golf and cross country to the spring, but has not said anything about the beginning of winter sports. For Richman, that means the first day of practice 42 days from the first game, sometime in late September, is still a go. NDSU has yet to release its schedule on the school’s athletic website.
The players, after going through summer conditioning, return to campus on Sunday. University protocols allow for them to have eight hours of structured training per week, although Richman said that may look a little different with four- or five-day breaks.
“There’s some confusion as to what the fall will look like,” he said. “My message to them as the head coach and leader of this program is let me take care of those things. You control the things you can control.”
Richman is entering his seventh year as the head coach. The Bison are two-time defending Summit League tournament champs that qualified them for two straight appearances in the NCAA tournament. It was Richman’s third trip to the NCAAs, although last year's tournament was canceled when the pandemic hit in March.
NDSU did it the last two years with a veteran team, a luxury it won’t have this season. Gone are seniors Vinnie Shahid, Tyson Ward, Jared Samuelson and Chris Quayle. Moreover, guard Cameron Hunter transferred.
“We lost a lot of faces and we’re a developmental program,” Richman said. “A big piece of it is we need to prepare. My goal and our goal is to be ready to play when an opponent is in front of us. … We’re in this for competition, I’m thriving for competition. We need to develop.”