On Aug. 13, the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference (NSIC) canceled all fall season athletics in light of the NCAA restrictions in place for COVID-19. This halt on competition suspends gameplay through Dec. 31.
“I felt sad and a little angry when I initially heard the news, not at the athletic department or the NSIC/NCAA because I know they worked very hard to try to make a season possible — and it was a very difficult decision to make — but it was still extremely sad to have the season canceled after all of the work we have put in as a team,” senior soccer player Shannon McKnight said.
The NCAA canceled Division II(DII) championships Aug. 5, and further restrictions on the manner in which gameplay must occur led the NSIC to cancel its games altogether. Augustana University’s Athletic Director Josh Morton said these restrictions forced all DII colleges to look at what this would do to fall sports.
“We just felt like we couldn’t reach a place where health and safety was something we could offer, so at that point it was the right decision,” Morton said in regards to canceling the season.
“It’s disappointing for sure, but it’s also one of those things where it’s out of our control, and we can’t stress about things out of control,” Head Volleyball Coach Jennifer Jacobs said. “All we can do is take the information at hand and make the best of it.”
Jacobs said she will focus her time on recruiting, budget planning, new revenue opportunities, team bonding and training.
“The reality is, game days are maybe 5% to 10% of my job,” Jacobs said. “There is a lot of work that goes on behind the scenes in any given collegiate athletic program that we get an opportunity to really dive into now.”
According to the NCAA, no athletes will forfeit a year of eligibility through the end of the 2021 school year so long as they do not play more than 50% of their scheduled season.
As for the seniors, the hope is still to find some time for play this spring.
“As a senior, I’m personally hoping to get to play some games and end my career on the field.” McKnight said. “So, hopefully, the spring season will give me and my teammates the opportunity to do that. It’s been a long time since we’ve been able to play games together, so the whole team is looking forward to playing games again eventually.”
She and many other senior athletes will be eligible for spring and summer gameplay, depending on what the NCAA and the NSIC deem appropriate.
“I was kind of shocked,” senior football player Logan Swanson said. “I’ve had this planned out for the last four years, and it all just kind of blew up.”
Swanson remains optimistic that COVID-19 cases will begin to level out, and he said that he hopes a vaccine will become available so that the restrictions become easier to maintain.
“I appreciate that our athletes are passionate. They want to play. They want to compete. I want them to compete,” Morton said. “It’s why they came to be a college athlete, so that’s why I feel awful.”
The plan moving forward is to set up some type of gameplay in the spring depending on the immediate threat of COVID-19 to the student athletes and their coaches.
The NSIC did not go into detail on what gameplay in the spring might look like for fall athletes. Swanson said he is hopeful that they will get some form of a “glorified spring game” or scrimmages in place of the traditional season.
“My hope is that we can have time with our players in the gym this fall, and then this spring I hope we get an opportunity to compete,” Jacobs said. “I have no idea what it will look like, but our goal is to be ready for whatever comes our way when it is time.”
Teams are now cleared for practice and organized meetings.
“This fall it will be challenging to continue to stay connected as a team while still attempting to train and play together safely,” McKnight said. “The precautions we take both on the field and in the weight room will definitely be an adjustment from what we are used to.”
Swanson said the football team will be screened for symptoms before any organized event. Their practice begins Sept. 21.
The members of the football team try to stay in contact with one another through Zoom meetings and group text messages. With the NCAA regulating all formal meetings for the teams, Swanson said the members try to keep in touch.
“We push people to reach out to each other more often and keep the bonds and friendships that we’ve gained over the years,” Swanson said.
Morton said that Augustana as a community should focus on being there for the student athletes during this time.
“I think that it’s really important as a society, as a football team and as a college campus at Augie that we’re all trying to be there for each other,” Swanson said.
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