MOORHEAD — The Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference recently announced its winter sports schedules, including men’s and women’s basketball, that were built to help operate during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
The basketball regular season, which had a delayed start due to the pandemic, is scheduled for 16 games with teams playing the same opponents on back-to-back nights at the same facility. That's instead of the traditional setup of having different opponents for Friday and Saturday weekend games.
“It minimized travel and interaction amongst teams,” Minnesota State Moorhead athletic director Doug Peters said. “We feel by playing the same opponent, you are minimizing the interaction so there is a better chance you’ll get through a weekend safely.”
The Dragons are slated to start their regular season with men’s and women’s doubleheaders against Augustana (S.D.) University on Jan. 2 and 3. Those games won’t count in the conference standings since MSUM is in the North Division and Augustana is in the South Division.
The following seven weekends, the Dragons will have back-to-back games against the other seven teams in the North Division. Those 14 games will be counted in the conference standings. The NSIC will crown only North and South Division champions this season, but not an overall champion.
“We wanted to play as many games as we could, we wanted to make sure we had a great postseason championship and we wanted to minimize the risk as much as we could,” Peters said.
The conference postseason is also slated to have a different setup than in recent seasons. The top four teams from each division will advance to Sioux Falls for the NSIC tournament, Peters said. That eliminates the first round of games that were played at home sites of the higher seed with the winner of those games advancing to the final eight in Sioux Falls. Last season, NSIC teams played a 22-game conference schedule and all 16 teams made the conference tournament.
The Dragons are slated to complete their regular season on Feb. 19 and 20 with doubleheaders against Northern State in Aberdeen, S.D. Peters said going to a “hockey style” schedule in which on two teams play against each other instead of four, helps the league contain spread if there was an athlete that played in games and tested positive for COVID-19.
“It gave us the best chance to play the next weekend,” Peters said of the new schedule configuration.
In regards to fans, Peters said the Dragons would follow state and local guidelines to set that number if any fans at all are allowed in Alex Nemzek Fieldhouse. Regardless of the number of fans allowed in the facility, all Dragons basketball games are set to be televised on WDAY-TV Xtra and streamed on the NSIC Network and various social media platforms.
"It’s vitally important because we know people want to watch," Peters said. "That's where I am so thankful that we have been in a place where our TV and streaming production has been arguably the best in Division II."
Peters said the winter season is likely to have multiple challenges due to COVID-19. Practices for winter sports teams are scheduled to start Nov. 27.
“Right now it’s incredibly difficult because it’s all unknown. The only body of work we have to look at is the NBA who created an entire bubble regarding basketball,” Peters said. “You're learning as you go along and all you can do is take one step at a time and adjust when something happens.”