BLOOMINGTON, Minn. — The Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference Presidents' Council approved plans to move forward with spring and postponed fall sports competition, the league office announced Wednesday, March 3. However, Concordia's football team will not play any games, instead opting for spring practices.
The league's fall sports season was moved due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, which also altered the conference's winter sports. Sports teams set to play during the spring season can officially start competition as early as March 5.
“Moving forward, it’s a bit of a relief to get some of these decisions made so we can plan the remaining of our academic year," said Cobbers athletic director Rachel Bergeson. “We’ve had our fall and spring sports training and practicing so to get our schedules out now and finalized, it’s helping those programs to feel a sense of normalcy.”
The MIAC is planning for a full spring sports season, including conference championships for baseball, softball, tennis, golf, and outdoor track and field. Those programs had their seasons significantly compromised last spring due to COVID-19.
“Spring sports, we’re hoping that it looks a bit more like a normal year," Bergeson said. "And the reason is because those sports were really impacted last spring. We want to try to recover an athletic experience so we do anticipate to play a full schedule. That’s our hope.”
For fall sports that were moved to the spring, soccer and volleyball are expected to have a limited schedule. Cross country and football have the choice to schedule up to four competitions. There will not be conference championships for fall sports that were moved to the spring.
Concordia head football coach Terry Horan said his team plans to have 21 on-field practices followed by a spring game in which the program will honor its seniors.
“As hard as it is, I’ve got to look out for what’s best for our program," Horan said. "Right now, what’s best for our program is to take care of ourselves and to get ourselves back to where we want to be from a shape perspective. ... We never even got to 11-on-11 in the fall. So we’re just thriving and thirsty for that. We haven’t had 11-on-11 in over a year. For us to think that we can go play games, we’re not ready. That concerns me.”
Horan said the Cobbers spring football game is scheduled for May 1.
“That will help, getting a nice steady diet of practices and then ending it all with a spring game where we are going to honor all of our seniors," Horan said. “We’re going to make it a special occasion for those guys.”
Horan said seeing the challenges the Cobbers winter sports teams faced due to the pandemic also played into football's decision to not schedule outside competition this spring.
“I’ve seen what our winter teams have gone through and we can’t afford to go backwards in my opinion. ... I want a consistent schedule of practices without worrying about outside competition adding a threat of a positive COVID test," Horan said. “We’ve got to get in shape. We’re not there yet.”
MIAC fall and spring sports teams will wear protective face coverings during all practices and competitions this spring because of Minnesota Department of Health guidelines. Bergeson said the league will be able to test less and still follow health guidelines due to wearing the face coverings.
"We will be testing less frequently in the spring, but masking more," Bergeson said.
Conference masking policies will be evaluated as the season progresses. The MIAC is following NCAA testing standards for fall and spring sports.
No spectators will be allowed for competitions played in on-campus indoor facilities. Once competitions start outdoors, each school can create its own attendance policy in line with state and local health guidelines.
Bergeson is hopeful the league's spring sports teams will have the chance to advance to NCAA competition.
“We still will have a champion and a conference tournament and we’re still hoping that the NCAA will have championships for Division III spring sports, but that has to be finalized," Bergeson said.