Monday’s announcement that the National Junior College Athletic Association was moving the vast majority of its athletic competition for the 2020-21 academic year to the spring semester due to the ongoing ramifications of the COVID-19 pandemic came as little surprise to athletic administrators from area community colleges.
SUNY Schenectady athletic director David Gonzalez said Tuesday that the national decision mirrors the talks that had been going on between the 21 schools that make up NJCAA’s Region 3 — which includes most of upstate New York’s junior colleges — for weeks now.
“We’ve been on Zoom meetings for weeks now, and as time went on, of the 21 schools, 17 of us voted to move to the second semester with everything that was going on,” Gonzalez said. “This wasn’t unexpected.”
The NJCAA announced Monday in its updated plan of action that all close-contact fall sports would be moved to the spring semester. Those sports include football, volleyball and men’s and women’s soccer.
The start of winter sports that would traditionally have some competition late in the fall semester — including men’s and women’s basketball, wrestling, swimming and diving, bowling and indoor track and field — will be pushed back to January.
“Our greatest focus is and always has been providing the best opportunities for our student-athletes,” NJCAA President and CEO Christopher Parker said in a news release announcing the plan. “Through a unified effort from our Presidential Advisory Council, the Board of Regents, and leadership staff, our most recent plan of action provides a path that keeps our student-athletes competing at the highest level with proper safety measures in place. As we move forward as an association, we will continue to provide opportunities for our student-athletes, coaches, and all those involved with the NJCAA to be safe and successful.”
The NJCAA will sanction championships in both cross country and women’s tennis during the fall season.
Fulton-Montgomery Community College athletic director Kevin Jones said he’s hopeful the Raiders’ men’s and women’s cross country teams will compete during the fall semester.
Jones said he was currently “in discussions” with his administration to find ways to accommodate the cross country team this fall, though he added that the plans would likely be dependent on what happens with the larger, four-year schools that host many of the meets the teams participate in.
“We’re dependent upon the four-year schools for some meets, but we still might be able to manage something within our region,” Jones said.
Trying to formulate a plan in the current framework hasn’t been easy.
“It’s a moving target,” Jones said, “every day.”
F-MCC’s fall sports that will be moved to the spring are volleyball and men’s and women’s soccer. SUNY Schenectady has both fall baseball and women’s crew programs that will be affected by the move. Hudson Valley Community College offers the greatest variety of fall sports with football, men’s and women’s soccer, men’s and women’s cross country and women’s tennis.
Gonzalez said the national decision fell in line with the plan SUNY Schenectady had already devised as part of its plan for the fall semester.
“We had already decided that we would not play,” he said. “It’s just like you see what’s going on nationally, like with the Liberty League and Union, where even though the conferences have made one decision, the schools are making their own decision. . . . It really comes down to individual schools and what they feel comfortable with. The bottom line is, can you guarantee the safety of your student-athletes, your coaches, community members, and we didn’t feel like we could. As a result, we moved everything to the spring — and that’s not even a guarantee that’s going to happen.”
The decision will also set up a tricky situation as schools move toward starting play in winter sports.
Instead of getting in a handful of games before the end of the fall semester in November, men’s and women’s basketball now won’t start until January and will have to fit in what will likely be an extremely busy schedule — even with a majority of national championship schedules pushed back from March to April.
“We used to get anywhere from seven to 10 games in the fall,” said Jones, who is also F-MCC’s women’s basketball coach. “We’ll just move everything now to a 22-game schedule in the spring.”
Gonzalez said it was also possible that local schools could opt for a shorter, 16-game basketball schedule involving only Mountain Valley Conference games.
There’s also the matter of practicing during the fall. Gonzalez said that at SUNY Schenectady, no in-person group workouts would be permitted during the fall semester, limiting practices to “virtual” sessions only.
Jones said that F-MCC, which will have its dorms open to students this fall, is hoping to accommodate a certain number of socially distanced workouts for its winter teams.
“We’re going to always take a look at things and try to do the best that we can for the safety of our kids and our staff here on campus,” he said. “We may have to limit some things in the fall and then get kids here in the spring. Obviously, basketball’s going to be a tight window. It’s going to be 14 days of practice [in January] and then you start playing games. Depending on if you’re going to have kids on campus or not, things may change, but it’s all a matter of doing the right thing for the kids.”
Reach Adam Shinder at [email protected] or @Adam_Shinder on Twitter.