The Upper Midwest Athletic Conference announced Thursday there will be no conference games this fall for football, men’s and women’s soccer and volleyball due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
Individual institutions can still play nonconference games, including against UMAC opponents, but Wisconsin-Superior announced on its website that the Yellowjackets will not play outside competition in soccer and volleyball as they’re deemed high-risk sports by the NCAA Sports Science Institute.
For St. Scholastica, the schedule will be limited, if the Saints play at all this fall.
“While the news brings much sorrow and disappointment, we will still continue to put our best foot forward to safely and cautiously navigate through the persistent COVID-19 pandemic, while providing our student-athletes with as much opportunity to train and compete this fall,” St. Scholastica athletic director Franco Bari said in a release.
Men’s and women’s golf are considered low risk and will proceed with conference competition this fall, with the UMAC Championships scheduled as planned for early October.
Men’s and women’s cross country are considered medium risk and may compete this fall against UMAC competition. The UMAC Cross Country Championships at Nemadji Golf Course in Superior could still take place if safety modifications are made.
“If there is one silver lining that came out of this decision is that we still have the autonomy to compete in the fall, and we intend on taking as much advantage of that as possible,” Bari later said in a phone interview. “At this point the College of St. Scholastica is still committed to finding competition for our student-athletes.”
Bari said patience and time and hope all can be virtues here.
“Absolutely — isn’t that what we’ve been doing in the COVID era?” he said. “Clearly, it’s been disappointing. You think back on the experience that spring sports had, and that came to a very abrupt end, versus the experience now for the fall sports, where we’re now finding more and more restrictions as we go on. So to be able to actually still hold onto hope and hold onto the fact that we still have an opportunity to create some type of schedule, some type of competitive experience for our student-athlete, that’s something we’re happy we still have.”
The conference said it will explore the possibility of conducting competitions and championships in the spring for the high-risk fall sports affected by Thursday’s announcement.
“The modification for fall competitions is something none of us desire,” Bari continued in his release. “While the national scope of fall athletics continues to operate under a cloud, it is clear that athletics plays an integral role in all of our lives. Here at CSS, we are optimistic that there will be a time when our student-athletes will proudly wear our colors without restrictions as our stands fill with supporters.
“For now, within these new constraints, we are still committed to providing opportunities for our student-athletes so that they have the chance to grow, develop and build relationships.”
Bulldogs work out and wait
NFL scouts had shown interest in coming to Duluth in the spring to work out a small handful of Bulldogs, including quarterback John Larson and linebacker Nate Pearson of Lake Nebagamon, but that never happened due to the coronavirus.
Now the pandemic has delayed the start to the NSIC’s fall season, announced Monday, but UMD football coach Curt Wiese said the Bulldogs actually see the league’s announcement as good news.
Football and cross country are scheduled to start practicing on Wednesday, Sept. 2, with the first competitions pushed back to Sept. 26. Volleyball and soccer won’t begin practices until Tuesday, Sept. 8, with the first competitions scheduled for Oct. 2.
UMD football usually plays 11 regular-season contests. That was already reduced to 10 games when NCAA Division II reduced fall schedules in May. The latest move means the Bulldogs will also lose a pair of marquee matchups, their home opener Sept. 12 against Minnesota State-Mankato, last year’s national runner-up, and Sept. 19 at Winona State.
“I think our staff and our team took it as a positive, the fact that we’re still trying to have a football season this fall and there’s still an opportunity for us to play,” Wiese said. “We’re seeing what’s happening in the rest of the country, and where we sit. I think our conference and institutions did a good job going as slow and diligently as they could to make sure that we’re protecting our student-athletes but also still trying to provide an opportunity for us to compete in the fall.”
The NSIC is only playing conference schedules this fall, with all nonconference games canceled.
In the meantime, athletes continue to work out on campus, with protocols in place.
Student-athletes check in every morning or before they work out with health screenings and temperature checks.
Wiese credited UMD’s athletic training staff. He said student-athletes have done a good job being honest and doing a good job of reporting any instances. He said, for the most part, the Bulldogs have been really healthy. They’ve been diligent and taken the measures in place seriously.
“They have, and again, I think part of that is the educational push by our administration and athletic training staff,” Wiese said. “It has been tremendously important for all of our student-athletes to understand the magnitude of this, and the opportunity that we could have or may not if we don’t take care of what we need to take care of.
“There are certainly a lot of moving parts, and I think this provides us with an opportunity to take some more time to make sure we get all the details ironed out before we head into the season.”