The NAIA Council of Presidents voted to postpone championships in cross country, men's soccer, women's soccer, and women's volleyball to the spring because of the novel coronavirus pandemic, the NAIA announced late Tuesday night.
The ruling still permits NAIA conferences to compete in the fall if they so choose, but they will have to wait until the spring to compete for a national title if they do so. NAIA schools in northeast Indiana include Saint Francis, Indiana Tech, Huntington and Grace.
“Given the fast-paced and constantly-changing nature of the current environment, the (Council of Presidents) recognized that the likelihood of safely completing the fall sports season has decreased significantly,” Saint Francis president and COP chair Arvid Johnson said in a statement. “This decision allows conferences to consider the regional impact of COVID-19 when determining the appropriate time for regular season competition.”
The NAIA has not yet made a decision on the fate of football this fall. The council of presidents will rule Friday on whether to move the football national championship tournament – won by Saint Francis in 2016 and 2017 – to the spring. The rationale behind waiting to make that decision is to get more feedback from member schools on how the logistics of a spring football championship would work.
Saint Francis athletic director Mike McCaffrey told the Journal Gazette earlier this week that he is fine with the championships being played in the spring, as long as – as the NAIA indicated in its statement – conferences were permitted to schedule contests in the fall in areas where it is safe to do so. McCaffrey believes that giving conferences that right will keep players engaged and give them the best experience possible.
"Regardless of when a championship is played, as long as we or the conference are permitted to provide some kind of competition and activity for our kids in the fall, then I think we can get through it," McCaffrey said. "The biggest thing is allowing the conferences who are in parts of the country that can compete, to allow them to continue to compete at a conference level, regardless of when the championship is played.
"So if they move everything to spring, we still want to play some games in the fall. That's important to us. As long as we retain that autonomy, we can make it work."
In its statement, the NAIA also implied it would provide more eligibility relief for affected players, as it did for spring-sport athletes who had most of their 2020 seasons canceled because of the pandemic. What form that relief will take is still under discussion.
“The NAIA realizes there are a wide range of considerations that come with postponing fall championships,” NAIA president and CEO Jim Carr said in a statement. “However, our first priority is making sure our student-athletes are not penalized by this decision. That will likely require temporary rule changes and accommodations as related to eligibility and seasons of competition, which the NAIA governance groups will begin further defining this week."