NAIA announces start of fall 2020 season

The National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) announced changes to the upcoming academic year. Leaders have been guided first and foremost by the health and safety of student-athletes, with their second priority as serving their member institutions as they plan for a return to campus for a successful fall term.

Input from administrators of member institutions, including Our Lady of the Lake University (OLLU) President Dr. Diane E. Melby, Athletic Director Shane Hurley, Athletic Trainers Corey Beechner and Alyssa Guerra and Red River Athletic Conference Commissioner Tony Stigliano, were instrumental to the process of establishing policies and guidelines for return to play.

Start date for practice – Aug. 15 / Start date for competition – Sept. 5

To provide this needed guidance, the Council of Presidents (COP) Executive Committee met and the following national office recommendations were approved:

1.  Return to Play Threshold

The COP Executive Committee approved the use of a threshold system as a guideline for determining return to play. The threshold goal is for about half the participating institutions in each sport to receive clearance from local authorities to return to competition before the season can begin. For example, NAIA football has 95 participating institutions. When half (47) of these programs gain clearance from authorities to play, the NAIA football season will be authorized to begin.

The rationale for this decision is that a significant number of institutions need to participate to offer student-athletes a significant competitive and championship-caliber experience. Additionally, the fewer the number of participating programs, the higher the likelihood of scheduling challenges leading to increased travel costs and missed class time.

2.  Start Dates

Based on input from NAIA presidents, athletic directors, commissioners, athletics trainers and health care professionals, the COP Executive Committee approved the recommendation of practice and competition start dates for each sport. The practice start date for all sports will be Saturday, Aug. 15.

Many NAIA campuses may be engaging in conditioning activities now or plan to as they get closer to Aug. 15. These conditioning activities, as long as they are not “practices,” are not restricted and can take place at any time, in keeping with any institutional guidelines.

Beginning on Aug. 15, student-athletes may practice consistent with any health and safety protocols institutions deem necessary. While practices can begin Aug. 15, only individuals identified with the institution can participate in these practices. No scrimmages, exhibitions or competitions of any kind that involve individuals not identified with the institution may take place prior to the competition start date listed below.

The competition start date at OLLU for all sports is Sept. 5 (providing three weeks of practice prior to competition). To be clear, this start date applies to all sports that schedule practices or competitions in the fall regardless of when the regular season is played.

The rationale behind the selection of this date is to provide adequate acclimatization, conditioning, and practice period prior to competition for each sport while minimizing the need for student-athletes to return to campus early. Establishing a start date also creates a more level playing field for all institutions that are able to compete this fall.

3.   Maximum Contests Allowed

With the delayed start dates, there are fewer weeks to complete the season. As a result, the COP Executive Committee approved a reduction in the maximum number of contests as follows:

  • Cross Country: seven meets, down from eight
  • Soccer: 14 games, down from 18
  • Volleyball: 22 dates, down from 28

The reductions are proportional to the shortened seasons and are consistent with recent feedback from presidents, athletics directors and commissioners expressing a desire to reduce regular-season costs.

The NAIA intends to host all fall national championship events as currently scheduled. However, they cannot predict what will happen in the next six months, but they are optimistic that the championships will be hosted as planned.

The NAIA knows the health and safety of student-athletes are imperative as institutions host fall sports. The national office and the COP Executive Committee are currently examining various options for health and safety protocols, including testing and screening, and will share decisions related to these areas as soon as they are made.

While the NAIA’s focus is currently on fall sports, they know there are already concerns related to the winter sports season. At this time, there are no planned changes for winter sports. The NAIA will begin to evaluate the possible impact of COVID-19 on the winter season and prioritize any decisions that will help institutions prepare for possible adjustments, if necessary. 

There is no precedent regarding athletics during a pandemic, so the NAIA must all be guided by what is best for the greater good of their members and student-athletes. The COP Executive Committee is meeting weekly in June and will continue to share decisions as they are made.