RYAN REEBENACKER, KNIGHT WIRE CO-MANAGER
Wartburg’s fall sports fell prey to the COVID-19 postponements that have affected schools across the NCAA and many professional leagues — and winter and spring sports could see changes, according to Wartburg College’s athletic director.
Fall sports seasons halted on August 11, when the American Rivers Conference (A-R-C) announced the postponement of the volleyball, football and men’s and women’s soccer seasons until spring 2021. At Wartburg, this decision affected over 170 student-athletes.
“Initially, I think, one of the first dominoes in this whole thing was that the NCAA canceled all fall sport championships,” Rick Willis, Wartburg athletic director and head football coach, said. “We actually had worked through adjusted schedules. As soon as we had worked out those schedules, the NCAA came out with an update to their guidance, which previously had been kind of a recommendation, but they turned their guidance into a mandate that required a certain level of testing for student-athletes participating in what was categorized as high-risk sports.”
The NCAA recognizes the Center for Disease Control’s (CDC) definition of a high-contact risk sport as “any situation in which there has been greater than 15 minutes of close contact, defined as being less than six feet apart, with a potentially infectious individual.” Wartburg postponed volleyball, football and men’s and women’s soccer because of a testing mandate for high contact risk sports that Willis said is not doable for most Division III programs.
“For high-risk sports, you are required to test your entire roster weekly,” Willis said. “Basically, the schools in our league didn’t feel like that was feasible from either a cost perspective, because right now you’re still probably paying close to $50 per test, nor was it feasible from an access standpoint for our league in terms of access to supplies and access to testing.”
According to the NCAA, “weekly surveillance testing should be performed for student-athletes, plus ‘inner bubble’ personnel for whom physical distancing, masking and other protective features are not maintained.”
“I think it is fair to say that they are going to be fairly shortened schedules,” Willis said. “Because the NCAA said if you compete as a student-athlete in less than half of the contests usually allowed, you do not use up a year of eligibility.”
There are many student athletes who may be weighing their options, Willis said. That includes senior all-conference football and baseball player JoJo McNair, who said he is “definitely considering” using his fifth year of eligibility, and are also looking at the option because of Wartburg’s August announcement that many students could return for a tuition-free fifth year.
Wartburg is still continuing the seasons of the men’s and women’s variants of tennis, cross country, golf and clay target sports, as they are all classified as low-risk by the NCAA, and are not held to the same testing mandate.
As for the upcoming winter sports season, including the high-contact risk sports of men’s and women’s basketball, as well as wrestling, Willis said he fears a similar decision may come.
“There’s no decision that has been made on that,” Willis said. “Some conferences have made the decision to delay the start of the winter seasons, and that’s something that our conference is going to need to determine. Those sports are scheduled to begin practice here in October, so we will likely have a decision within the next month or so.”