The NJCAA announced on Friday that, as of now, it will have sports for the 2020-21 season in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.
A plan of action detailing changes to seasons and safety protocol was released by the NJCAA as the association continues to operate through the pandemic.
The @NJCAA, in collaboration with the Board of Regents has released an official plan of action for the upcoming 2020-21 academic year as it relates to COVID-19.Release | https://t.co/z8J3oYt2KA pic.twitter.com/tnrmFJbCb4— NJCAA (@NJCAA) June 19, 2020
The Kansas Jayhawk Conference, in response to the guidelines released by the NJCAA, announced that it is instituting a 10% to games across all sports in all seasons.
“We’re excited at the opportunity for our student-athletes to get to compete,” KJCCC Commissioner Carl Heinrich said. “It’ll be different. There will be protocols in place by each college as well as the colleges our schools travel to. We’ll have limitations and have to get creative.”
The cut to games falls in line with what colleges at the NCAA have done in response to the financial hardships imposed by the coronavirus.
“It’s an economic issue, not just a safety issue,” Heinrich said. “What the MIAA did in cutting non-conference games was pretty dramatic. We’re looking at 10%. The presidents approved that. We should be able to play all our conference games this year.”
Fall sports, including football, volleyball, cross country, soccer and the half marathon will proceed as planned. The start date for practice for fall sports is Aug. 1 while competitions can start on Aug. 20.
The NJCAA is currently looking for new hosts for various fall sports championships due to travel concerns and re-opening regulations. However, many of the more dramatic changes to scheduling will impact winter sports including basketball and wrestling.
The NJCAA is encouraging schools to not schedule any basketball games between Thanksgiving and Jan. 1, 2021. This would accommodate a growing trend of schools choosing to end in-person fall semester classes after Thanksgiving in an effort to limit back-and-forth travel.
The NJCAA is also allowing practices and games to start earlier for basketball, with practice allowed to start on Sept. 14 and games allowed on Oct. 16.
Wrestling is also moving entirely to the spring semester with competition being allowed to start on Jan. 20, 2021. Wrestling teams will be allowed to have practices starting on Oct. 1 and ending on Oct. 31.
“The concern everyone has is what the second wave (of COVID-19) will bring,” Heinrich said. “We’re trying to be proactive of trying to prevent that. The recommendation for basketball is no games between Thanksgiving and January. But they pushed the dates back, so those games could be played on the front end of the schedule.”
No changes were made to any 2021 spring sports seasons by the NJCAA.
The NJCAA is also instituting various safety protocols in efforts to curb the potential spread of the coronavirus, including adhering to social distancing guidelines for fans and staff, frequent disinfecting of equipment and frequently touched surfaces, limiting use of shared objects, no sharing of towels or water bottles and the encouraging the wearing of masks by fans and gameday staff.
“The expectation is that schools will follow protocol,” Heinrich said. “If not, we’ll address those issues with those institutions. We’re not just talking about a competitive edge. We’re talking about health and safety for our student-athletes. So it’s very critical that they follow protocol.”
Heinrich added that following health guidelines is critical to preserving the 2020-21 athletics campaign.
“We have to follow institution, county and state recommendations,” Heinrich said. “You put yourself in harm’s way if you don’t follow those protocols. We don’t want to have happen what happened in the spring where you cancel seasons. But that’s not beyond belief that it could possibly happen if we have a sudden spike.”
Student-athletes at NJCAA schools are allowed to return to campus and move into dorms on July 18. The association says that the earlier move-in date will allow schools to institute a 14-day quarantine for student-athletes.
The risk of athletes within the KJCCC contracting COVID-19 will be a situation the conference continues to monitor. Kansas State shut down its summer football workouts after 14 players tested positive shortly after their return to campus.
“If we have to shut down, we have to shut down,” Heinrich said. “That decision hasn’t been made and it’s not one that I can individually make. It’ll be the Executive Committee of the Jayhawk Conference the recommendations of the presidents. It’s a decision that has to be made amongst many.”
Heinrich and the KJCCC administration will continue to coordinate with its member schools, the NJCAA office and officials as it develops further plans for the 2020-21 season.
But for now, KJCCC athletics are a go for the fall and beyond.
“Winning is not our goal right now,” Heinrich said. “The opportunity to play is a more realistic goal at this point. I think (NJCAA President and CEO) Chris Parker said it best when he said that this has nothing to do with people gaining a competitive edge. It’s about the opportunity to get to play. That’s what we’re trying to do at this time.”