NACOGDOCHES, Texas (KTRE) - The Southland Conference finally made the decision to push fall sports to the spring of 2021 due to concerns of returning to play safely with COVID-19 still a concern in the region.
The conference made the announcement official on Thursday morning. The league made up of 13 Division I schools in Texas, Arkansas, and Louisiana will hope to play all conference contests in football, women’s soccer, and volleyball in the spring of this school year.
The conference will be allowing for football programs to play out of conference games this fall as long as the institution can properly follow return to play protocol set forth by the NCAA which includes a negative test within 72 hours of competition for any coach or athlete set to participate. It is a similar model to what other FCS level conferences have announced over the past two weeks. The amount of games is unknown at this time based on what a spring schedule could look like. According to SFA Athletic Director Ryan Ivey, schools in the conference are allowed 11 total games. SFA could pick up games from other FCS level schools wishing to play in the fall as well as schools from the FBS conferences - C-USA, Sun Belt, and AAC, which at this time are allowing for their schools to play multiple out of conference games.
“Words cannot express my disappointment, but that pales in comparison to what our student-athletes are feeling right now”, said Director of Athletics Ryan Ivey. “As with everything with COVID-19, no two days are alike. As such, we will continue to evaluate and consult with our medical team as the situation emerges, and we hope it may be possible for our student-athletes to have the opportunity to compete in some capacity. I can assure everyone that the holistic student-athlete well-being is at the center of our decision making. I am extremely proud of our student-athletes and the leadership, passion and discipline they have displayed throughout this entire pandemic. We, as a department, are more resolved than ever to do everything we can possibly do to be provide them with a great experience and the opportunity to achieve every dream that they have, on and off of their respective competition surfaces.”
The NCAA Division I council recommended on Wednesday that the NCAA Division I board of governors grant student-athletes impacted by the coronavirus pandemic an extension of their five-year eligibility and an additional season of competition if they compete in 50% of less of the maximum number of competitions allowed in each sport under NCAA rules.
“The prolonged pandemic has caused and will continue to cause financial hardships for the athletics department”, said Ivey. “Now, more than ever, we need our supporters to step up and help us through this situation. Our goal is to make sure that we continue to invest in our student-athletes and not have to take away the resources they need to be successful. Any contribution to the Purple Lights Fund goes directly to help sustain the level of success our student-athletes have achieved and Lumberjack Nation has grown accustom to.”
As of now, SFA is set to open the season on the road Sept. 12 against SMU. That could change with September 5 being week 1 of the NCAA season.
Head Lumberjack coach Colby Carthel was hopeful for a fall conference schedule and said he is now looking forward to playing whatever games he can pick up from out of conference schools.
“Obviously we will be playing some different opponents,” Carthel said. “Who knows where all we will be heading to. We feel like it is best to play this fall with the safety precautions and the testing that we have invested in. I appreciate out school investing in those resources so we can play this fall in this environment.”
SFA did a phased-in approach with bringing student-athletes back on campus. Around 200 summer access, eligible student-athletes returned to campus on June 29. Those athletes were given an antibody test before they were allowed to meet with the team or move into a dorm. Each athlete was given their own dorm for the summer to help isolate them as much as possible. Carthel believed the practice worked.
“The athletes have been back on campus for about nine weeks and we are Isolated in single dorms, surveillance testing, and practicing all the social distancing,” Carthel said. “We have created our own bubble. We have changed our practices, our masking, social distancing. I feel very confident with our players and we take it one day at a time.”