Zach Dwyer, St. Cloud Times Published 11:38 a.m. CT July 24, 2020 | Updated 10:15 a.m. CT July 25, 2020
St. John’s head coach Gary Fasching talks to his players following their 51-47 win Saturday, Nov. 23, 2019, against Aurora University at Clemens Stadium in Collegeville. (Photo: Dave Schwarz, email@example.com)
COLLEGEVILLE — A normal summer would see NCAA Division II and III athletes arriving back at school for fall camp in the coming weeks, preparing for the start of competition in late August.
But this off-season has been anything but ordinary.
Witness Twin Cities media reports Saturday about the MIAC, of which St. John’s University and the College of St. Benedict are members, possibly canceling fall sports or moving them to the spring season.
WCCO reported the conference could make decisions Tuesday, while the Star Tribune reported the league will move some fall sports to the spring, if health officials allow it.
The MIAC already has canceled all non-conference events for the fall. Plus, last week the NCAA sent out a new set of recommendations for a return to play in September.
That guidance provided the biggest change so far: All athletes who play high-contact sports must be tested for COVID-19 within 72 hours before competing.
According to the NCAA, fall sports that are high-contact include football, soccer and volleyball. Hockey, basketball and wrestling are high-contact sports that normally start in the late fall and play in the winter season.
The 72-hour test window is something that St. John’s head football coach Gary Fasching sees as a difficult factor.
And with 220 players expected to report to fall camp on Aug. 23, that poses a serious problem.
“Testing that many people … you can see the extraordinary amount of money that is going to cost just to test our team,” Fasching said. “If you have to do that before every competition, it starts to add up to an incredible amount of money.”
“At the DIII level, most schools don’t have that kind of money.”
St. John’s coach Gary Fasching is interviewed at halftime of the Saturday, Nov. 17, 2018, game against Martin Luther College at Clemens Stadium in Collegeville. (Photo: Dave Schwarz, firstname.lastname@example.org)
With only two home games now scheduled, St. John’s will also be hit hard on gate receipts, which Fasching said are very important to the athletic department.
The Johnnies had finished top-two in attendance for Division III every year between 2001-2018, but poor weather conditions at almost every home game limited them to fifth in average attendance in 2019.
Decisions on crowds and fan attendance at games is still to be determined. Now, though, St. John’s is set for a seven-game regular season, all against MIAC competition.
“Everybody has to deal with it someway, and we’re no different than every other team,” Fasching said. “When they tell us we’re ready to go, we’ll be ready to go.”
But with fewer games left to play, losing any more time could be a dire circumstance.
“I don’t want an interrupted schedule, where you play a couple of games and then maybe have some positive tests, and they shut down your team for a few weeks,” Fasching said. “That’s the thing that’s most scary … there’s just a lot of question marks, and I’m not sure anybody has the answers to it.”
St. Cloud State head coach Chad Braegelmann retrieves a loose ball Thursday, Oct. 31, 2019, at Halenbeck Hall. (Photo: Zach Dwyer, email@example.com)
St. Cloud State
More questions than answers. That’s the same line of thinking that St. Cloud State volleyball coach Chad Braegelmann brought up multiple times earlier this week when discussing what the fall season will hold.
The NSIC altered its schedule for 2020 after the NCAA Division II Presidents Council modified the number of required regular season games for this season. The Huskies will now play a conference-only, 20-game regular season that begins at home against Augustana on Sept. 18.
Braegelmann said those first eight or so non-conference games are usually used to tweak lineups. And with no clearance yet on scrimmages against outside opponents, St. Cloud State will have to jump right into conference play..
The majority of their schedule features only Friday-Saturday games, so the 72-hour testing window would be similar to football. However, Braegelmann is still trying to figure out that cost and feasibility.
“That is going to be a barrier to overcome,” Braegelmann said. “There’s a lot of logistical things that need to be worked out.”
Unlike St. John’s, St. Cloud State has already welcomed a limited number of athletes back to campus for workouts.
While there have been positive COVID-19 tests, those infected have quarantined and no athletes have had to be hospitalized.
Athletics director Heather Weems said it would be naive to expect no positive tests, but they’ve been pleased with how seriously the athletes have taken new protocols.
“The part we’re trying to ramp into is right now we have 30-50 student athletes … when we get closer to the full 400, when we get the campus back in place … how do we best prepare?” Weems said. “How do ensure we have the processes in place to manage a larger population?”
As for testing, a key factor is if St. Cloud State can develop into a campus testing site. Along with figuring out details like fans and event operations, a picture of what the fall may hold continues to evolve as the weeks are slowly running out on a return-to-play plan.
“This is unprecedented. There’s no manual that we pull out and look at how to do this,” Weems said. “We’re trying to look at all options … with the understanding that even within different states there are different protocols and expectations.”
“We have to get to a place where we can explain to them decisions that were made, and that we care about their experience and are doing the absolute best we can.”
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