The NJCAA has officially moved nearly all sports to the spring semester for the 2020-21 season in an effort to mitigate the spread of COVID-19.
With approval from the Board of Regents, the @NJCAA has announced its updated plan of action for the 2020-21 academic year that will move a majority of competition to the spring semester.Release | https://t.co/JUbi3B3ZjB pic.twitter.com/w7nHVfF28g— NJCAA (@NJCAA) July 13, 2020
Close-contact fall sports — football, soccer and volleyball — will be moved to the spring semester while cross country, half marathon and Division III women’s tennis will remain in the fall.
All winter sports — basketball, wrestling and swimming — will begin in January with most championship seasons being from March to April.
Spring sports were left largely intact and unaffected by the NJCAA’s newest plan of action.
The association that governs junior college athletics nationally announced its plan, approved by its board of regents, on Monday after proposing the move last week.
“Our most recent plan of action provides a path that keeps our student-athletes competing at the highest level with proper safety measures in place. As we move forward as an association, we will continue to provide opportunities for our student-athletes, coaches, and all those involved with the NJCAA to be safe and successful,” said NJCAA President and CEO Christopher Parker in a statement. Parker also said that the NJCAA moved towards moving sports the spring semester after community colleges across the country began processes of cancelling fall sports.
Labette Community College Athletic Director Aaron Keal felt that Monday’s call by the NJCAA was the right one.
“It’s good that they’ve taken the time and energy to make the decision,” Keal said. “This takes into account every region across the country. They have the best thoughts of student-athletes at heart. It’s a good deal. We didn’t want to get started then forced to stop. Hopefully things will clear up and these kids can compete.”
In general, teams will be allowed to hold practices and limited scrimmages for 60 straight days in the fall semester. Parker encouraged schools to enroll student-athletes for the fall semester this year.
“Use the engagement time whether it’s face-to-face, Zoom or whatever,” Parker said in an online press conference on Monday. “Don’t do them a disservice by not enrolling student-athletes until the spring.”
Football will be allowed to start practice on March 1 and games on March 25. The NJCAA Football Championship in Pittsburg will be tentatively held on June 3 and teams are allowed a maximum of eight games.
Keal said that Labette will have its incoming and returning student-athletes enroll for classes this fall.
“We started that process a long time ago,” Keal said. “We’ll operate as normal as we can there. We want to get our kids in there. If they don’t enroll full-time, they set themselves up for disaster and be set back. We don’t need to have that happen academically.”
Football teams can also practice and scrimmage between Aug. 15 and Nov. 15 and hold three scrimmages in the fall.
Volleyball will start practice in the spring semester on Jan. 11, 2021 and be allowed to start games on Jan. 29 with a maximum of 21 dates allowed and the regular season, region and district championships concluding by April 3.
Volleyball programs will also be allowed to practice in the fall between Aug. 15 and Nov. 15 and be allowed to participate in five scrimmages with no more than two outside opponents.
“In the back of my mind, I knew it was a real possibility,” Labette volleyball head coach Haley Miller said. “I was really amped for preseason. Now everything is at a screeching halt and we’ve got to redo everything we’ve planned.”
While volleyball, traditionally a one-semester fall sport, is forced to push its season back, Miller sees benefits in an extended fall preseason after losing a spring season earlier this year.
“We get to go through what essentially would be a spring season in the fall,” Miller said. “That helps us build our team chemistry and get the quirks out before the regular season. We’ll also have a recruit that graduates high school early, so she can step right onto the court for us in the spring.”
Wrestling, which was previously moved to the spring semester in the NJCAA’s initial plan of action for 2020-21, will start spring practices on Jan. 4 and begin competition on Jan. 20 with a maximum of 14 dates allowed. Regular season and district championships will be completed by April 15.
Wrestling can hold practices in the fall semester between Sept. 15 and Dec. 15.
For men’s and women’s basketball, teams can practice between Sept. and Dec. 15 before starting spring semester practices on Jan. 11 and competition on Jan. 22.
Teams will be limited to 22 games with the regular season and region tournaments completed by April 10.
The Kansas Jayhawk Conference will spend the next few weeks drawing up schedules from scratch for the spring. Keal said the conference’s primary point of emphasis will be avoiding conflicts for each schools.
“Scheduling is the next thing we’ll have to tackle,” Keal said. “We’re not going to try and overload one institution in one day. It’ll be tricky. We’ll redo all the schedules which takes time. But we’ll do that over the course of the next few weeks.”
Junior colleges with limited resources will be spread thin this spring. Using Labette as an example, all six sports at the school — volleyball, men’s and women’s basketball, wrestling, baseball and softball — will be in the regular season by February. That means practice time in one gym, weights sessions in one weight room and vans for travel will have to be rationed efficiently.
“It’ll be tough. I’ve got some ideas in the initial stages,” Keal said. “Hopefully we can make them happen and make it so our sports can compete throughout our season.”
“We’re all just going to have a good job of rolling with the punches, being flexible and being better with time management,” Miller added. “It can’t be one team taking all the blows so other teams can have the benefit.”
As teams practice in the fall, Labette and schools around the country will continue to follow safety and health protocols to battle the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Each team will be responsible for that,” Keal said. “The days of one team practicing and another team in the building waiting are probably done. We’ll have to clean and sanitize in between to keep the student-athletes safe.”
Labette will also test every student-athlete for COVID-19 as they arrive on campus this fall. Athletes that come from states with travel restrictions imposed by the state or internationally will be subjected to a 14-day quarantine.
“We’ll delay the volleyball move-in date since they won’t start in August,” Keal said. “We’ll probably set the dates different so we don’t have a mass move-in date. We’ll probably have three dates, stagger them accordingly and make sure we’re safe.”
While Monday’s move by the NJCAA pushes back again the return of junior college athletics across the country, the association preserved championship seasons for every sport amid a pandemic.
“It’s a unique time,” Parker said. “It takes everybody to get us through it.”