Fall season still on for Bethel, KCAC

Mark Schnabel
After decisions made in recent days by the NAIA and the KCAC, the season will go on this fall for the Bethel College women's soccer team, along with the men's soccer team, women's volleyball team and men's and women's cross country teams. The decision about the upcoming football season was set to be made Friday.

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While the Kansas Collegiate Athletic Conference announced Wednesday that the conference will play its fall sports season in the fall, the individual schools will still face a lot of challenges getting the seasons going.

On Tuesday, the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics’ Council of Presidents voted to move the fall championships to the spring for all sports but football, but left to individual conferences and schools the decision to play the regular season in the fall.

Decisions on the upcoming football season were set to be made Friday.

“We’re still trying to find out what that will look like in specific detail,” Bethel athletic director Tony Hoops said. “We had anticipated the NAIA would probably make this determination about a week or 10 days ago, so we have some contingency plans in place already. What we are trying to develop with the schedule is how much to play in the fall and when to do championships — do you do KCAC championships in the fall or do you split seasons.”

Another question will be if a team that competes in the fall and qualifies for an NAIA championship in the spring would be able to hold some spring competitions to prepare for that post-season play.

“That’s probably going to be done on a sport-by-sport basis,” Hoops said. “It will probably depend on how things play out in that given sport. We would also give ourselves the flexibility to play some in the spring for those teams that qualify for post-season. Whether that is in conference or out of conference is still to be determined.”

Hoops said some schedule changes may have to be made for nonconference contests based on what other conferences decide. In preparation for the upcoming season, the NAIA reduced the number of playing dates for fall sports, eliminating many nonconference dates.

Other questions remain about spring eligibility for fall athletes who may graduate at semester. Hoops expects guidelines from the NAIA in the coming weeks.

Hoops said the NAIA eliminated earlier COVID-19 testing requirements, but Bethel plans to have a testing protocol schoolwide for both athletes and nonathletes.

The question also remains about fans and students being able to attend athletic contests.

“Right now, the opinion would vary from school to school, depending on what county health regulations were. I’m not sure if we’ll develop a policy in our conference. It will be more along the lines of each specific county.”

If fans and students are not allowed to attend, Hoops said the school’s online presence will be important. Bethel has expanded web broadcasting in recent years to include football, volleyball, soccer, basketball and softball matches.

“Dan Page, who did football and basketball live stream for us last year, is going to be working in a more prominent role for us this year,” Hoops said. “That online presence will be more essential for us this year. We’re looking at ways to grow this year.”

"It is in our best interest to work together as 13 like-minded members to address the uncertainty in the intercollegiate athletics world currently," KCAC Commissioner Scott Crawford said. "The conference has monitored the COVID-19 situation continually since the cancellation of Winter 2020 championships, as well as the suspension of the Spring 2020 regular season and postseason. We believe the time is right to return to play this fall, albeit in this altered timeframe. We will continue to take all necessary steps to protect everyone in the game environment and adhere to all safety measures required by state and local governments within the four-state region comprising the conference."

KCAC member schools can begin practice Aug. 15. Competition may begin in all fall sports except football on Sept. 5. Football teams may begin competition Sept. 12.