NAIA announces plans for return to play in the fall

KANSAS CITY – The NAIA National Office posted on Thursday its plans for direction for its member schools as to how to proceed for the Fall 2020. In an open letter to its member on the association’s website, the NAIA lists guidelines for clearance to play, start dates and maximum number of contests for sports.

Here is that post:

The NAIA national office, in partnership with leaders of the association, continues to plan for the fall season. Our work is guided first and foremost by the health and safety of your students. Our second priority is to serve our member institutions as you plan for a return to campus and a successful fall term.
We originally set July 1 as the date we would announce our plans for the fall. After discussions with many of you, we know that institutions and conferences are anxiously awaiting direction from the NAIA. As we have considered options related to fall sports, we have been helped tremendously by input from presidents, athletics directors, conference commissioners and athletic trainers. Your insights and suggestions have been instrumental to the process of establishing policies and guidelines for return to play.
To provide this needed guidance, the Council of Presidents (COP) Executive Committee met yesterday and the following national office recommendations were approved:
1.    Return to Play Threshold
The COP Executive Committee approved the use of a threshold system as a guideline for determining return to play. The threshold goal is for about half the participating institutions in each sport to receive clearance from local authorities to return to competition before the season can begin. For example, NAIA football has 95 participating institutions. When half (47) of these programs gain clearance from authorities to play, the NAIA football season will be authorized to begin.
The rationale for this decision is that a significant number of institutions need to participate to offer student-athletes a significant competitive and championship-caliber experience. Additionally, the fewer the number of participating programs, the higher the likelihood for scheduling challenges leading to increased travel costs and missed class time.
2.    Start Dates
Based on input from NAIA presidents, AD’s, commissioners, athletics trainers and health care professionals, the COP Executive Committee approved the recommendation of practice and competition start dates for each sport. The practice start date for all sports, will be Saturday, August 15. As a result, from today through August 14, any activities deemed practice by the NAIA are strictly prohibited. (Click here for NAIA definition of practice.)
We know many NAIA campuses may be engaging in conditioning activities now or plan to as we get closer to August 15. These conditioning activities, as long as they are not “practices”, are not restricted and can take place at any time, in keeping with any institutional guidelines.
Beginning on August 15, student-athletes may practice consistent with any health and safety protocols your institution deems necessary. While practices can begin August 15, only individuals identified with your institution can participate in these practices. No scrimmages, exhibitions, or competitions of any kind that involve individuals not identified with your institution may take place prior to the competition start date listed below.
Competition start dates are as follows:
  • All sports except football: September 5 (providing 3 weeks of practice prior to competition)
  • Football: September 12 (providing 4 weeks of practice prior to competition)
Please note: these start dates apply to all sports that schedule practices or competitions in the fall, regardless of when the regular season is played.
The rationale behind the selection of these dates is to provide an adequate acclimatization, conditioning and practice period prior to competition for each sport, while minimizing the need for student-athletes to return to campus early. Establishing start dates also creates a more level playing field for all institutions that are able to compete this fall.
3.     Maximum Contests Allowed
With the delayed start dates, there are fewer weeks to complete the season. As a result, the COP Executive Committee approved a reduction in the maximum number of contests as follows:
  • Cross Country: 7 meets, down from 8
  • Football: 9 games, down from 11
  • Men’s and Women’s Soccer: 14 games, down from 18
  • Women’s Volleyball: 22 dates, down from 28
The reductions are proportional to the shortened seasons and are consistent with recent feedback from presidents, athletics directors, and commissioners expressing a desire to reduce regular season costs.
Currently, the NAIA intends to host all fall national championship events as currently scheduled. Obviously we cannot predict what will happen in the next six months, but we are optimistic that the championships will be hosted as planned.
Finally, we know the health and safety of our student-athletes is imperative if we are to host fall sports. The national office and the COP Executive Committee are currently examining various options for health and safety protocols, including testing and screening, and will share decisions related to these areas as soon as they are made.
While our focus is currently on fall sports, we know there are already concerns related to the winter sport season. At this time, there are no planned changes for winter sports. We will begin to evaluate the possible impact of COVID-19 on the winter season and prioritize any decisions that will help our institutions prepare for possible adjustments, if necessary.  
We hope this information provides guidance to help you plan accordingly for fall athletics. There is no precedent regarding athletics during a pandemic, so we must all be guided by what is best for the greater good of our members and our student-athletes. The COP Executive Committee is meeting weekly in June and we will continue to share decisions as they are made.

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