Dragons announce new football season-opening date, athletic director Peters ready to adjust if needed
MOORHEAD — Minnesota State Moorhead announced its football schedule for next fall on Monday with the new season-opener slated for about a week later than originally planned.
The Dragons start their regular season at 2 p.m. Sept. 12 against Winona State at Scheels Field at Alex Nemzek Stadium. The schedule change was needed after the NCAA in May reduced the number of maximum contests allowed for Division II programs to the coronavirus pandemic.
MSUM athletic director Doug Peters is proceeding with the idea the start of the regular season won’t change, but he also knows the COVID-19 outbreak means alternative plans need to be ready.
“That’s the way that I’m preparing. We’re hoping for the best,” Peters said. “At the same time, I’ve got to make sure we’ve got plans in place if something happens and we’re not able to.”
The Dragons were initially slated to start an 11-game regular season Sept. 3 against Southwest Minnesota State, but when NCAA Division II decided to cut the max amount of games to 10 the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference had to adjust.
MSUM was slated to play six home games this season before the changes, but that has been trimmed to five.
“There is a financial swing there,” Peters said of playing one less home football game. “But at the end of the day, one of the things I know from all of our sports is our student-athletes love to be able to compete at home. That’s probably the bigger part that student-athletes lose out on that.”
The Dragons also have five road games and are scheduled to complete the 2020 regular season Nov. 14 at Southwest Minnesota State.
Peters said practice start dates for all sports are being discussed in the upcoming week. If the NSIC follows NCAA Division II bylaws, a sport like football could in theory have the exact same practice start as the original 11-game schedule, even though the start of the regular season for the NSIC has been pushed back a week.
Cross country, men’s golf, women’s soccer and volleyball are the other fall sports for the Dragons. The 16-member NSIC has schools that operate in five different states with varying “return to competition” plans for the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We know we’re going to be faced with challenges. We know competitive equity is going to be hard to achieve,” NSIC commissioner Erin Lind said. “Our goal is to provide an environment that’s safe and healthy for our student-athletes to return in, and that’s the No. 1 priority.”
Lind said by the end of the week, she’s optimistic the league will have a better idea of when teams can set their practice start dates, which is dependent on whether or not the conference decides to follow NCAA bylaws on that subject.
“Our coaches want to know,” Lind said.
“We’re hoping to find a start date relatively soon so we can plan, but we obviously understand this in an ever-changing situation,” added Dragons head football coach Steve Laqua.
Once practice does start, Laqua said he’s been considering different ways to make practice safer for his players. For example, do position groups continue to meet virtually to cut down on physical interactions in meeting rooms for players in case someone on the team were to get COVID-19?
Another idea is the split up practices into smaller groups that in turn limits the number of players in the locker room at the same time.
“The biggest goal for us is keeping our guys healthy,” Laqua said. “Obviously for their own well being, but they all want to play, too. They don’t want to miss potentially games in a 14-day quarantine or whatever it might be.
“It’s an industry disrupter for the game and there is going to be some new strategies that will need to be used to keep guys healthy and get them on the field. The strategy of finding a secret play that is going to help you out this week might not be as valuable as finding the strategy that keeps everybody healthy and able to suit up on Saturday.”
Like Peters, Lind is operating with the intention that fall sports seasons are going to start as scheduled. She also knows the league has to be flexible.
“Every day I feel like we are a little bit more optimistic, but I always say they’re just asterisks by it,” Lind said. “I think we’re better off to be prepared and have to pull the reins back, than not be prepared at all and we want to be prepared.”