MANKATO — Don Westphal is disappointed, but he knows the Upper Midwest Athletic Conference has made the right decision.
On Thursday, the UMAC announced it was delaying high-risk sports — football, men’s and women’s soccer and volleyball — to the spring, due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
Bethany is a member of the UMAC, though it does not offer football.
“I’m disappointed for the student-athlete; I’m disappointed for the students who enjoy watching activities on our campus,” Bethany’s athletic director said. “It was a tough decision, but I think it was the right decision for our students and our campus. We’re putting the health and safety of our students as the top priority.”
The UMAC will look into conference-only schedules for those high-risk sports, which could include conference tournaments for men’s and women’s soccer and volleyball, in the spring.
The UMAC will allow opportunities for practice, small-group training, skill development, strength and conditioning and leadership programming in the fall for those affected athletes. Nonconference competition in the fall for football, men’s and women’s soccer and volleyball remains at the discretion of UMAC institutions and will not be governed by the league, but Bethany has decided not to offer any events.
Men’s and women’s golf, which are classified as low-risk sports, will be permitted to compete this fall, with conference championships as scheduled. Men’s and women’s cross country are classified as medium-risk sports and may engage in regular-season competition and conference championships as planned, provided accommodations and modifications can be made to events to ensure a safer environment.
Competition for golf and cross country will be limited to conference programs only.
Athletes will be allowed to come to Bethany’s campus on Aug. 20, two days before the general student body, in order to go through testing. Small-group training will begin shortly after that.
“We’re still trying to give the students the normal fall experience. There just won’t be any games or matches,” Westphal said.
There are 44 conferences in Division III, and the UMAC was one of the last to announce the postponement of fall sports seasons. The America Rivers Conference, with most of its universities located in Iowa, has announced it would offer all fall sports, with reduced schedules.
The UMAC will make decisions regarding winter sports, including starting dates and schedules, at a later date, as will plans for spring sports.
“I’m as confident as I can be (that other sports seasons will go on as planned),” Westphal said. “The last few weeks, we’ve seen things transpire and the number of cases continues to grow, but we fully intend to have our fall teams compete in the spring.”
Follow Chad Courrier on Twitter @ChadCourrier.