Bethel to play football in fall

Mark Schnabel
Bethel players Josh Seabolt (22) and  Phillip Williams (1) watch a pass go by for an incompletion during play last season against Saint Mary. Bethel is scheduled to open the season Sept. 12 at home against Avila.

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After deciding to move its other fall sports championships to the spring, the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics’ Council of Presidents (COP) made the decision Friday to move its football championships to the spring as well.

The decision was made because of the COVID-19 outbreak.

Meanwhile, the Kansas Collegiate Athletic Conference, which includes Bethel College, will continue with plans to play its regular-season as currently scheduled.

“I’m excited for our kids and families,” Bethel coach Terry Harrison said. “We haven’t seen our guys since the week before spring break. We only got two spring practices in. We’re excited to get the guys back together again and practice and get more people back on campus.”

"It is in our best interest to work together as 13 like-minded members to address the uncertainty in the intercollegiate athletics world currently," said Dr. Scott Crawford, KCAC commissioner. "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."

Last season, 94 teams competed in NAIA football in eight conference.

Bethel College is an NAIA member in football, as is the Kansas Collegiate Athletic Conference.

"The decision regarding the football championship required additional attention since the sport often operates outside of the regular conference structure," said COP chair and University of St. Francis president Dr. Arvid Johnson. "The extra time allotted was to ensure that the COP representatives had adequate opportunity to gain feedback from their conference colleagues."

The decision still allows NAIA member schools and conferences to hold their regular seasons in the fall.

The KCAC decided earlier this week to keep its other fall sports’ regular seasons in the fall, although allowing the possibility of holding some competition in the spring.

“I think there is a little bit of the unknown,” Harrison said. “There are so many different opinions. Sometimes it’s hard to determine fact from fiction. There will be the challenges of social distancing in football, making sure we prioritize safety and health. It’s a game of collisions. With guys striking each other, it presents challenges. We’re not the only football program in the world dealing with this. There are high schools, middle schools, youth leagues and colleges all over the country dealing with this. We’ll try to do what’s best for the kids.”

Member schools may begin practice Aug. 15 with the start of competition Sept. 12.

“We follow the Harvey County’s and the Kansas Department of Health’s guidelines about quarantine,” Harrison said. “We have a handful of kids that reported early from what the (Center for Disease Control) considered a hot spot. Those kids are quarantined for 14 days prior to being in competition or being around other kids.”

Under the new guidelines, teams will actually have a little extra time to prepare for the season.

“The kids’ health and safety, that’s always our most important thing,” Harrison said. “There are kids that you will have to ease back into shape. You can’t expect kids to come back in tip-top shape. As long as you do that with common sense, I don’t foresee any problems. … We have around a month to do that.

“We have a lot of kids who have been doing a great job. They have been reporting back weekly. At the same time, we want to err on the side of caution.”

One problem Harrison said he’d like to have with the format is qualifying for the NAIA championships in the fall, while waiting for the playoffs to begin in the spring.

“I hope we have that problem,” Harrison said. “If we’re in that situation, we can talk about. My assumption is the conference will make a decision about a split season between the spring and the fall. The coaches don’t have to worry about that at this time. That will come from the presidents.”

According to the release from the NAIA, “The COP noted that the decision to move the football championship from the fall to spring is more inclusive for all NAIA member institutions, especially those schools that are restricted by local or state mandates from holding athletics competitions this fall.”

Previous decisions by the conference and the NAIA cut the regular season for football competition this fall from 11 to 10 games.

Bethel is scheduled to begin the regular season Sept. 12 at home against Avila. Bethel’s scheduled non-conference game against Texas College was canceled because of the season cutbacks.

“It’s unfortunate because it’s fun,” Harrison said of the non-conference game. “Our kids loved going down to Texas last year. We got to play somebody Bethel hasn’t played before. It’s a home game that we lost, and this is weird, but we have so many from the south. Last year, they got to play in front of a lot of friends and parents who got to make a shorter road trip to play.

“I’ll take it day-by-day. That’s one thing I’ve learned. When a new challenge arises, we’ll tackle it as it comes.”