MT. PLEASANT — As anyone would figure, the fall 2020 sports season is going to look a little different. High school, college and professional sports continue to operate under uncertainty with the COVID-19 pandemic effecting every sport.
As it stands now, no area schools will be effected by COVID-19 schedule changes more than Iowa Wesleyan University. While the Iowa High School Athletic Association and Iowa Girls High School Athletic Union has decided to keep all originally scheduled sports in their respective seasons, the small-school college slate has looked a lot different.
The IW fall sports schedule was rocked in late July, as both the St. Louis Intercollegiate Athletic Associatoin and Upper Midwest Athletic Conference announced they would be moving the majority of their conference sports seasons to the spring of 2021.
The SLIAC went first, making its announcement on July 27. The conference, which doesn’t carry football, announced it would bump back men’s and women’s soccer, as well as volleyball to the spring. The conference announced it would still allow limited cross-country and golf competitions, as well as tennis, which IW does not have.
Three days later, after all other NCAA Division III conferences had made their decision on the 2020 football season, the UMAC made its decision. The conference would push a handful of sports, including football, to the spring season.
“As we started to see East and West Coast institutions and conferences call it off for fall, and then slowly started to watch that slowly trickle into the Midwest, we just felt like it was the right decision for the UMAC,” says IW Athletic Director Derek Zander, who met weekly with the rest of the UMAC A.D. council to make a decision.
Zander says the conversation began in March, when Athletic Directors began to look at the possibility of fall sports being effected by the coronavirus pandemic. COVID-19 ended the NCAA’s 2020 spring sports season before it got off the ground, bringing a halt to all organized sports for the spring.
Zander says he thinks moving the higher-risk fall sports to the spring will be helpful to the health of not only fall sports athletes, but all IW students, who are set to move into the dorms in August.
“When it comes down to it, our main focus is to take care of the health and safety of our students, before the athletes,” Zander says. “What I mean by that is, if we can’t guarantee the health and safety of our students on campus, we shouldn’t be letting other students inside our bubble.”
Zander says the school will still continue the original move-in schedule for fall sports athletes, and says a semester around teammates without the pressure of playing in the fall might end up being a blessing in disguise for the students. He doesn’t think many students who were planning to play in the fall will opt out due to their sport being pushed back.
“The thought has crossed my mind, but we believe this is a positive,” Zander says. “It does present a lot of opportunity to bring our student body to campus, and for the first time ever, all of our sports are going to have an opportunity to build relationships with their teammates, get to know the playbook, get to know the systems within each program that are going to help them be successful in the spring.”
Zander also says it gives the student-athletes a chance to focus on academics in the fall, when normally they would frequently be traveling for road games.
The early plan for the spring 2021 football season is to start preseason practice in February and games in March, but no schedules are set for any of the fall sports that have been pushed back.
One hurdle for IW sports will be figuring out how to share the field with Mt. Pleasant High School. The Tiger volleyball team plays its game at Ruble Arena, but the football team could have conflicts with the Panther track and field teams, and the soccer teams will have to share East Lake Park with Mt. Pleasant soccer, which usually has full control of the field in spring.
Zander says he and Mt. Pleasant Athletic Director Scot Lamm have been in discussion and that the two will figure out a schedule to make sure all sports can coexist. That is, if the COVID-19 situation is at a point that allows both high school and college athletics to go on.
The school doesn’t quite know how many games the volleyball, soccer or football teams will play. Luckily, since it’s a conference decision, the SLIAC and UMAC schedules should be doable.
Zander says there still might be some sort of fall competition for the Tiger teams, but he’s not willing to say whether that’s a plausible reality, especially considering the extra precautions that would have to take place.
“One of the things that we are most concerned about is that the NCAA has put out a recommendation that every student-athlete should be tested weekly,” Zander says. “When we start looking at the cost of that, we just don’t know if that is feasible for Iowa Wesleyan, and that’s not feasible for a lot of Division III schools across the country.”
As it stands now, the golf and cross-country teams will be the only squads representing IW in the fall. If the spring plan works out, the sports of football, volleyball and men and women’s soccer would join the IW baseball and softball teams on the spring sports realm. Add that to the already busy high school spring season, and the area could see its busiest sports season in quite some time.