Inter-school athletic competition will return to Division III campuses across the state of Minnesota this February, notwithstanding Carleton’s decision to opt out of winter sports months in advance.
Last Wednesday, the MIAC Presidents’ Council approved a plan for a return to competitive athletics. “Winter sports of basketball, hockey, indoor track and field, and swimming and diving will be permitted to participate in regular-season competition,” read the conference’s website. The decision, however, comes with a caveat; there will be no spectators and the conference will not host playoff tournaments or postseason championship meets.
The news does not immediately affect athletes from Carleton, Saint Olaf, Macalester or Saint Catherine’s: the four MIAC member institutions who decided against having their athletic teams compete this winter. Carleton led the pack, deciding as early as October 23 to cancel winter sports.
“It breaks my heart once again having to inform our student-athletes and coaches that their season has been cancelled,” said Athletic Director Gerald Young earlier this fall. “We know how much competition means to our student-athletes. However, the health and safety of the entire campus community is the most important thing, and [cancelling winter sports] continues to be the right decision.”
Although Carleton athletes have known for months not to expect a winter season, the MIAC’s decision to move forward with winter sports offers hope that if the endeavor is successful and COVID-19 cases are kept in check, Carleton administrators may consider competition on campus this spring.
In an effort to mitigate exposure to and prevent transmission of the coronavirus, the Presidents’ Council approved an 18-page COVID-19 Competition Plan with extensive health guidelines. Among the most notable requirements is that with the exception of athletes playing or warming up, all athletic personnel will be required to wear face coverings. Similar to guidelines rolled out by the NBA earlier in the month, the rule extends to bench players, coaches, medical staff and officials (when possible).
Daily COVID-related health screenings and temperature checks will be required to remain eligible for competition, and symptom checks will be mandatory prior to departure for off-campus games and meets. For high-risk sports such as basketball and hockey, athletes will be administered COVID-19 tests three times per week throughout the season, while a quarter of tier 1 track and field athletes will require weekly testing. Swimmers and divers, deemed low risk, will be tested in accordance with institution specific guidelines.
Other guidelines place caps on the amount of travel personnel a team may carry to road matchups and encourage visiting teams to arrive dressed and ready to play to keep locker room crowding to a minimum. Post-game handshakes, a staple of sportsmanship in traditional times, will be eliminated. Instead, the conference suggests that at the conclusion of each event, athletes demonstrate “an appropriate sign of respect” towards their opponent, prompting players and coaches to get creative.
The MIAC maintains that the physical and mental health of its athletes is the conference’s “top priority” and justifies the decision to proceed with a winter season due to the fact that all member institutions “are located within the borders of Minnesota, where there is stable healthcare and broadly available testing.”
The teams scheduled to compete this winter include: Augsburg, Bethel, Concordia-Moorehead, Gustavus Adolphus, Hamline, Saint Benedict’s, Saint John’s, Saint Mary’s and Saint Thomas. For men’s and women’s basketball and hockey, each team will play a 7-game round robin schedule. Pending completion of at least 4 out of 7 in-conference games, the team with the best winning percentage at the season’s conclusion will be awarded the annual conference title and earn an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament. Track and field and swim and dive meets will be scheduled at the discretion of each school in the coming weeks.
Competition will begin at 2 p.m. on Saturday, February 6, when the first bout of hockey and basketball round-robin action will be completed inside gymnasiums and ice rinks on campuses throughout the conference. In the meantime, Carleton athletic programs are permitted to continue practicing over the course of the winter season in accordance with campus policy.