The NAIA on Friday unveiled its return-to-play schedule for the 2020 season.
The NAIA’s Council of Presidents (COP) executive committee — after consulting with health professionals, trainers, coaches and ADs — released a number of new protocols. (The group is chaired by Saint Francis president Dr. Arvid C. Johnson.)
Let’s work backward.
The maximum number of regular-season games has been reduced from 11 games to nine. This measure was done across all fall sports (volleyball went from 28 to 22, soccer from 18 to 14, etc.), and the NAIA said it was done more of a cost-cutting measure than a public safety one.
“The reductions are proportional to the shortened seasons and are consistent with recent feedback from presidents, athletics directors, and commissioners expressing a desire to reduce regular season costs,” the statement read.
The reduction will not affect the postseason, the NAIA said. “Obviously we cannot predict what will happen in the next six months, but we are optimistic that the championships will be hosted as planned.”
The 2020 postseason, a 4-round event, is scheduled to begin Nov. 21 and conclude Dec. 19 at Eddie G. Robinson Stadium in Grambling, La.
Start dates for practices and games were established. The earliest an NAIA football team can practice is Saturday, Aug. 15. Games cannot be held before Saturday, Sept. 12.
“We know many NAIA campuses may be engaging in conditioning activities now or plan to as we get closer to August 15. These conditioning activities, as long as they are not ‘practices’, are not restricted and can take place at any time, in keeping with any institutional guidelines,” the COP statement read.
“Beginning on August 15, student-athletes may practice consistent with any health and safety protocols your institution deems necessary. While practices can begin August 15, only individuals identified with your institution can participate in these practices. No scrimmages, exhibitions, or competitions of any kind that involve individuals not identified with your institution may take place prior to the competition start date.”
Finally, a minimum number of programs have to be cleared to return for a sport to resume action. Ninety-five NAIA schools sponsor football, so the COP decreed that at least 47 have to be cleared by state, local and campus authorities in order for the football season to begin.
“The rationale for this decision is that a significant number of institutions need to participate to offer student-athletes a significant competitive and championship-caliber experience,” the statement read. “Additionally, the fewer the number of participating programs, the higher the likelihood for scheduling challenges leading to increased travel costs and missed class time.”
Friday’s announcement continued the trend of the NAIA being ahead of the NCAA in important governance matters. While the NCAA begs and barters for Congressional help on a national name, image and likeness policy, the NAIA unleashed its own policy back in March.
“We know the health and safety of our student-athletes is imperative if we are to host fall sports. The national office and the COP Executive Committee are currently examining various options for health and safety protocols, including testing and screening, and will share decisions related to these areas as soon as they are made,” said the COP.