College Football

NAIA reduces number of contests, moves back start dates

By Herald-Whig
Posted: Jun. 6, 2020 12:01 am

CANTON, Mo. -- Pat Atwell knew changes were afoot the moment he received a survey from the NAIA with questions about season limits and start dates.

"A lot of time when you see these surveys come around, you think, ‘Well, OK, they're not doing this for fun,'" said Atwell, the Culver-Stockton College athletic director. "These surveys are to collect data."

The NAIA used that data to formulate its "Return to Play Threshold," which comes in response to the coronavirus pandemic and was released Thursday.

Competition start dates were established and limitations on the maximum number of regular-season contests allowed were set for fall sports. Practices cannot begin until August 15, with on-field competition for all fall sports except football scheduled to begin September 5.

Football's kickoff has been pushed back to September 15.

"The trainers and the health professionals felt we needed more acclimatization time," Atwell said. "Some of these kids won't have done a thing for five months. They need more than a typical 2 1/2-3 weeks to get ready for games. That's especially true in the heat, which we can experience throughout August."

The restrictions are in place only for fall sports at this time.

"Nothing has trickled into the winter or spring," Atwell said. "We have been asked questions about sliding the start of basketball back and other things. Those things are out there with no action yet."

That's in contrast to the NCAA, which announced cutbacks in the maximum number of contests for Division II athletic programs across the board for the 2020-2021 school year.

These restrictions were put in place to not only combat the pandemic, but to ease budget shortfalls.

"Everybody is concerned about budgets," Atwell said. "Everyone knows across the collegiate knows enrollment is not going to be gushing. Everyday the athletes aren't campus it's saving about $2,500 in preseason meals. We want them to have the best experience possible."

That experience will include fewer games than past seasons.

According to the NAIA's guidelines, each fall sport will see a reduction in contests. The cutbacks include:

º Football going from 11 games to nine;

º Men's and women's soccer going from 18 games to 14;

º Women's volleyball going from 28 dates to 22;

º And cross country going from eight meets to seven.

Since the Heart of America Athletic Conference football teams, including Culver-Stockton, play an 11-game schedule all against conference foes, lopping off Weeks 1 and 2 makes sense. Atwell, who sits on the Heart scheduling committee, said that proposal was submitted to the league office.

"Everybody loses a home game and everybody loses a road game," Atwell said. "Play no favorites. Boom, boom, they're gone. It's the easiest thing to do."

For teams traveling to a road game that requires an overnight stay, the budgetary savings will be substantial. Atwell estimates one overnight road trip for the football program costs about $10,000.

Under this plan, the Wildcats will lose a road game at Baker and a home game against Central Methodist.

"It's not going to be a dramatic cutback for a lot of NAIA programs, because many of them only play 10 games," Atwell said. "In the top 25 last year, only seven played 11 games. Nine is the minimum you'd ever want to play."

While the schedule adjustment appears to be easy for football, it grows increasingly challenging for other sports.

"There's going to be a lot of phone calls between coaches coming up," Atwell said. "A lot."