NSIC cancels all fall sports due to COVID-19, winter sports pushed back
MOORHEAD — The Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference won’t have sports competition this upcoming fall because of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, the league announced Thursday, Aug. 13. The NSIC canceled all fall sports competitions and championships.
The NSIC also suspended all athletic competition through Dec. 31, which would also delay the start of the winter sports seasons.
"It's a brutally difficult decision because we love to compete," Dragons athletic director Doug Peters said. "But you also have to take into account the health and safety of our student-athletes and coaches."
Peters said there is a chance for fall sports to compete in the spring in some capacity, but there won't be any NCAA or NSIC championships attached.
"We wanted to provide as much clarity to the student-athletes as we could," Peters said.
Dragons head men's basketball coach Chad Walthall said he was caught off guard that the winter sports season was getting pushed back in mid-August.
“I was shocked," Walthall said. “Whether or not they moved it back or not, we’re all surprised that they made a decision at this point, but I’m not privy to those conversations.”
Peters said it's too difficult to gauge if being able to have fall sports compete in the spring is doable with the ever-changing COVID-19 landscape. Each NSIC member school has the autonomy to decide how to handle potential spring competition for fall sports, he added.
“Right now there’s too many unknowns, but I did want to see that the door would be left open," Peters said.
Part of the NSIC statement read: "Although the NSIC will not conduct a league schedule for 2020 fall sports, competition is an integral part of the student-athlete experience, therefore, the membership is committed to exploring meaningful opportunities and experiences for fall student-athletes in the spring, if it can be done reasonably and safely. "
MSUM is a member of the NSIC, which competes in Division II. The conference has 16 members spread over five states. The Dragons compete in football, volleyball, men's and women's cross country, women's soccer and women's golf in the fall. Peters said early indications are that those athletes would not lose a year of eligibility.
"I really feel terrible for our seniors in particular, obviously our whole team, but to have those phone calls with guys and tell them that they're not going to get a chance to play the sport that they love anymore ... it's been some tough phone calls." Dragons head football coach Steve Laqua said.
Dragons junior women's soccer player Carly Jo Gamrath is hopeful her team is able to compete in some capacity during the spring, even if that means just a single weekend tournament.
“I think a lot of us are hopeful that we can get something in the spring, maybe just to bring some closure," said Gamrath, from St. Michael, Minn. “To get on the field one last time, I think would be nice.”
"If that ends up being a realistic opportunity, we'd be excited about whatever we can, but at this point that seems so far away," Laqua said. "We're trying to take care of the here and now."
Gamrath redshirted last season due to a knee injury and planned to have this fall be her final season with the Dragons, but she may reconsider that decision after losing the fall season.
"Now I'm not sure what I'm going to do," Gamrath said.
Gamrath added the unknown has been difficult leading up to Thursday's decision to cancel.
“The toughest part was the waiting game, waiting to hear decisions," Gamrath said. "It’s kind of been an anxious feeling all the time. ... At least we have an answer, not there’s much to make plans for.”
Peters had a department meeting Thursday morning, and communicated with the school's fall sports athletes before the NSIC announced its intention to cancel fall sports.
"It's (a pandemic) certainly not anything expected," said Peters, who has started his 17th school year as an athletic administrator.
Earlier this month, the Division II Presidents Council canceled all seven of its fall championships due to COVID-19. The NSIC had altered its fall schedules multiple times before ultimately canceling.
Walthall said starting competition on Jan. 1 is less problematic if the current 22-game schedule, which had already been reduced, remains intact.
“As long as there is a 22-game schedule intact, I’m OK with it," Walthall said. “If you’re a student-athlete and you only get to play four years and all of a sudden you are playing 15 games? Is that considered a year? I think student-athletes and parents would have a lot of thinking to do."