The Heartland Collegiate Athletic Conference announced Monday that they are moving several fall sports—including football, men’s and women’s soccer, and volleyball—to the spring semester in response to the recent rise in COVID-19 cases across the country.
The announcement came via a press release after months of speculation as to whether college sports would be played as scheduled in the fall semester.
“The decisions on shifting the competitive seasons for these high contact risk sports came after careful analysis of whether HCAC institutions could successfully fulfill NCAA testing recommendations without drawing vital health resources from their local communities,” the conference said in the press release.
Several AU sports programs are now left to figure out how to remodel their planning for a spring season. Women’s soccer Head Coach Jennifer Myhre understands the conference’s decision to postpone her team’s season but knows the change won’t come without its own challenges.
“It’s definitely been hard for all the athletes,” Myhre said. “It has been a long off-season, but I have been so proud of the team as they have continued to train, with a lot of unknowns this summer. They have stayed connected, welcomed the incoming freshmen and have really been there to support and encourage each other.”
The decision was ultimately made with the health and safety of the players in mind. Even though she was looking forward to starting her season in September instead of February, sophomore volleyball player Hannah Rady understands the decision made by the HCAC.
“It’s disappointing but I think it was the right move,” Rady said. “We were excited to get back in the gym together and work towards the goals we had set for this season, but I also think we can see some positives that can come out of this. We can use the practice and workout times they gave us in the fall to get back into the swing of things and get familiarized with the freshmen.”
While the decision is certainly disappointing for players, it also raises several other questions. Myhre understands that a spring season will affect the way she recruits high school seniors for next year.
“Recruiting is going to look different, both in the process and timing,” Myhre said. “Thankfully, we are able to currently have visitors, which has been great. If the fall high school and club seasons are cancelled, then that adds some obstacles trying to see players before college decisions are made and to continue to connect with future classes. Some places have started streaming games and camps. We have also had some Zoom recruit gatherings, so the recruits can at least ask questions and interact with the team.”
Every team in the HCAC will be in the same boat, which is part of the reason the conference made the decision, to help maintain a competitive balance.
Another unanswered question is the long-term health risks with playing a contact sport in the spring, and then playing another season the following fall.
Football players usually have a full off-season to rest and recover from the beating they take during the season. This year, players will have just a few summer months off before they return to school to prepare for the 2021 season.
“In the long-term I feel like this will affect players that don’t take recovery seriously,” said Alex Parra, a junior center on AU’s football team. “If you have the right coaches and trainers that are going to make sure your body is being taken care of the quick turnaround shouldn’t be too hard. At the same time as a player we have a part to play in making sure our bodies are 100% taken care of.”
AU had just hired a new strength and conditioning coach for football, as well as a new head athletic trainer for all sports. They will have a big role in making sure that players are properly treated throughout the spring season and that they are able to recover in a shortened off-season.
The good news in all of this is that the HCAC plans to have sports this school year, just on a different schedule. Low-contact sports such as cross country, golf, swimming and tennis will play their seasons as scheduled. The remaining teams will be packed into one loaded spring season, if all goes to plan.