MOORHEAD — The Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference will have a winter sports season, the NCAA Division III league announced Wednesday, Jan. 13. The league's President Council voted to approve plans for a return to winter athletic competition.
MIAC play for men’s and women’s basketball and men’s and women’s hockey is slated to start Feb. 6 after the regular season was delayed due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Teams in those sports are slated to play seven conference games with eight teams in each sport planning to operate during the winter season, including the Concordia Cobbers.
“It’s important that we did everything we possibly could to try to make this happen in the safest way,” Concordia athletic director Rachel Bergeson said. “I think we have done that. Even though it is limited, we are going to be providing an experience for our students in the safest that we know how right now. ... We are making progress to return to play which is a positive."
Multiple conference schools decided not to participate during the winter season, shrinking the league number to eight teams for basketball and hockey. For men's basketball and hockey, Augsburg, Bethel, Concordia, Gustavus, Hamline, St. John's, St. Mary's and St. Thomas are competing. For women's basketball and hockey, St. Benedict replaces St. John's in that mix.
The Cobbers also have women’s swimming and diving, men’s and women’s indoor track and field and wrestling that will start competition in February, Bergeson said. Those are more individual sports and won’t have the same scheduling structure as basketball and hockey. Wrestling doesn’t have conference affiliation with the MIAC, but will follow the same health and safety guidelines as the other winter sports at Concordia, Bergeson added.
Basketball and hockey teams have the option to play as many as four nonconference games and could start competition as early as Jan. 29 for those contests. Bergeson said Concordia is still working on potential nonconference games.
“We are still up in the air,” Bergeson said. “One of the variables for adding additional contests is testing. We have to determine if we will have some free testing options or if we will have to pay for testing. That will determine from a budget standpoint how many competitions we can have.”
The MIAC won’t have any winter sports championship events, so the regular-season champions in basketball and hockey will earn the league’s automatic bid to the NCAA Division III postseason. The teams in those sports that have the best conference winning percentage, while completing at least 51% of the schedule, will earn the league title and automatic NCAA bid.
Bergeson said the NCAA currently plans to have a postseason for Division III, but added “that could change.”
Bergeson added there are no plans to allow spectators for winter sports at this time. All basketball and hockey games are scheduled to be streamed live on Concordia's athletic website.
Bergeson said playing seven games was a good number for basketball and hockey for multiple reasons.
“To play everybody once was important,” Bergeson said. “With the time that we had to fit in a winter sports season we thought that was a very manageable number. … Should competition get canceled, we would have at least some limited opportunity to reschedule.”
Bergeson said athletes won’t have to wear masks while practicing or during competition if certain testing thresholds are met. The current plan is to do enough testing so that Concordia’s athletes won’t have to wear masks during competition.
Bergeson said balancing facilities for games and practices and support staff is also going to be important during the winter season.
“We are going to have a lot of teams up and running here,” Bergeson said. ”Our athletic training staff is going to be stretched really thin. We need to be mindful of that.”