The NAIA’s decision to postpone the football championship until spring 2021 didn’t come as a surprise to Dakota Wesleyan University. If anything, it’s viewed as a forward-thinking plan heading into an uncertain football season.
Prior to the announcement, 51 NAIA individual institutions opted to move its fall sports to spring 2021. On Tuesday, a decision was made to move the national championships for cross-country, men’s soccer, women’s soccer and women’s volleyball to the spring, as well.
After an extended conversation between the NAIA Council of Presidents (COP), it decided to give football the same treatment.
“Moving the football championship to the spring was the right thing to do for the well-being of our student-athletes,” NAIA President and CEO Jim Carr said in a release. “The decision also provides additional flexibility for our conferences and institutions to account for regional differences and plan their regular season accordingly.”
Despite the move, it still allows NAIA conferences to compete in the fall and winter, if desired, which is how the Great Plains Athletic Conference is treating the situation.
The GPAC announced on July 21 the intention to start practice on Aug. 15 and conference football games on Sept. 12, which is when DWU will travel to Hastings (Neb.). The Tigers have nine conference games scheduled after seeing its annual rivalry game against Dakota State wiped out due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“It raises a lot more questions, but I feel like at this moment of time, as of (Friday), the GPAC is still committed to play (in the) fall,” DWU athletic director Jon Hart said.
Despite the months-long gap between the fall and spring seasons, Hart expects all GPAC teams to stay firm to the commitment to playing in the fall. During an uncertain time, there’s positive thinking toward the new plan that gives direction toward some conferences.
“The initial reaction, honestly, I think it’s a smart decision by the NAIA,” DWU football coach Ross Cimpl said. “There’s probably hurdles and questions that are going to come up, but I think what the NAIA is trying to do is incorporate as many teams and conferences as possible to give them as many opportunities to play … and still have a plan for keeping a playoff and national championship in place. If anything, I think it’s a really proactive approach by the NAIA.”
Coming off a 3-8 season, DWU is preparing to play this fall. It will look different with no spring ball and extra guidelines in place. But as of now, Cimpl is preparing to start practice in a couple of weeks and execute his team’s practice plan while adapting to the situation.
“We hope that plan doesn’t have to change, but if there’s things we have to adjust, we have to do that,” Cimpl said. “We have a plan based on the information we have, and a plan to play football in the fall.”
Now, it comes down to working out the details and answering the still growing amount of questions regarding a football season during an ever-changing landscape.
“We got a lot of big conversations that are going to be coming up in the next few days,” Hart said.
“A lot of the details on what the game days look like,” Hart later said. “A lot of the structure and a lot of the core things are there, but it’s our job as ADs and presidents to really fill in the gap and we’re going to fill in the gaps with the input of coaches, athletic trainers and a lot of other individuals involved.”