Contingency plans in the works for college sports to come back for next school year

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Atlantic 10 commissioner Bernadette McGlade said Monday that the league is working through a full series of contingencies for the fall season in case the impact from the coronavirus pandemic prevents business as usual.

McGlade mentioned how the league, which includes La Salle and St. Joseph’s locally, is studying a myriad of possibilities, including having fall sports compete in the spring.

“We are looking at a series of plans,” McGlade said on a conference call with reporters. “If we can’t start on time — if there is a delay on getting back to campuses — we’re looking at what that does to the first part of the calendar of the fall schedules, and how that would impact condensing the schedule.”

McGlade said conferences are communicating with each other about possibly having more regionalized schedules in Olympic sports over the next year. Also, individual schools and their medical and training staffs are studying what public health factors are in play in order to return to play.

The A-10 also is looking at contingencies that include campuses being open but the schedule being condensed because of social distancing and the time available to train and practice.

“We’re looking at reductions in potentially our conference schedule that would still maintain the integrity of a conference regular-season schedule,” McGlade said. “We’ve also discussed the possibility of, if the NCAA champions are, in fact, intact, we could name our regular-season champion the AQ (automatic qualifier) and essentially not have an A-10 championship.”

She added, “That’s one of our least preferable options.”

If the format can’t be run fully, they’re also talking about having what they call “a Final Four A-10 championship,” where the top four in a sport qualify for a playoff, similar to the setup in recent years for Ivy League basketball.

“There’s also the possibility — could we lose our fall season?” McGlade said. “If campuses don’t open and we lost the fall competitive season, then how does overlapping fall sports with spring sports look?”

Not only the experience, McGlade said, but “even campus facilities, and fields, and weight rooms, if you were all of a sudden doubling up all the teams at the same time.”

From a contingency standpoint, “we feel like we need to keep everything on the table,” McGlade said. “If for some reason, if campuses didn’t have any on-campus classes for the entire fall semester, which would prevent our athletes from being back and actually participating in a competitive season — exactly what happened to the spring sports right now — then we’re looking at, is it even feasible to have the fall sports compete in a spring season?”

A lot of moving parts to that decision, McGlade reiterated. There have been discussions on a range of issues involving travel.

“Having an optimistic outlook that we would resume our fall schedules either in a reduced fashion or the full schedule, there’s this natural concern of traveling, of potentially air travel,” McGlade said. “We are a flight conference. We do a lot of flying, for our Olympic sports, as well as both the (men’s and women’s) basketball sports. Part of the contingency planning is a potential 25% reduction in our conference schedules so that we could align more of a regionalized schedule. We’ve also kept on the drawing board the potential of doing some regional competitions if we needed to with neighboring other Division I conferences, so that we could also fill out schedules.”

If minimizing air flights and long-distance travel is going to be a factor, she said, “in the safety and well-being and even the anxiety level of student-athletes and coaches and support staff, I think that’s going to be something that all of us are going to be very mindful of.”

You can condense a schedule only so much, McGlade said.

“Student-athletes haven’t been on campus,” she said. “They’re all training independently. As we know, that will vary. Some student-athletes may be training at a very high level. Other student-athletes may not have the wherewithal to be keeping in what we would call playing shape. From a safety point … student-athletes are not only going to have to be able to return to campus but have the adequate time to be able to reacclimate to rigorous training and then be prepared for competitive schedules.”

Decisions are going to have to be made about what constitutes a full schedule. The A-10 supports issuing blanket NCAA waivers on the number of contests, start dates, and other issues. Even the variables obviously have variables.

“However, we are not in favor of giving relief or reduction in the number of sports that a school needs to sponsor to be a Division I member,” McGlade said. “We feel like ‘minimum number’ is exactly that.”

If there is an extreme distress situation for a school, “where they couldn’t field a full schedule for a sport that was up and running, they should resort to the waiver process.”

Differences in state policies could come into play.

“We’re in nine states and D.C.,” McGlade said. “If we have two or three states in which we have members in and they’re not coming back online because they’ve been impacted at a different time frame with this pandemic, then that’s going to obviously be tremendously impactful” on finishing a full schedule. “I think that’s where these blanket waivers are going to be really important.”

If, say four of the 14 members aren’t ready to play, “we have to make accommodations for them, so everybody can return healthy a year from now.” Health regulations will dictate how quickly any school can get back up and running.

“There is a sense of confidence that our membership has,” McGlade said of working on these contingencies. “We’re not rushing to make any decisions, but we have several pathways, several contingency plans, that we’re trying to cover all the bases.”

Conference members don’t want to be in “crisis mode,” McGlade said. “When decisions are made, we want to be able to say, OK, we’ve got A, B, and C still in play. You know what, D and E are off the table because they’re no longer relevant. That’s a peace of mind that is valuable for the league.”

McGlade said it is “critically important” that discussions are being held between leagues, mentioning that there are 32 commissioners in Division I and they’ve been having weekly calls as a full group, sharing plans.

“Essentially, the 32 commissioners, in conjunction with our governing boards, we’re the decision-makers for whether our fall regular seasons get started, when and how,” McGlade said. “The NCAA really doesn’t come into play until the postseason.”

Time is of value, she said.

“The good thing is, we’re only at April 27 right now,” McGlade said. “So we have time before our fall sports will be coming back to campus to start training. That’s the good news. The bad news is, it’s April 27 and we still don’t know if our teams are going to be able to come back, say, in late July, early August.”


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