By Demetrius Dillard/The Sports Pulse Contributor
CHARLOTTE, N.C. — According to Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association (CIAA) Commissioner Jacqie McWilliams, the conference will not have a scheduled football championship game in the fall for the first time since World War II.
The coronavirus pandemic has forced many collegiate athletic departments to reimagine how the upcoming sports season will look. A “thorough analysis” has led the CIAA’s board of directors, along with the conference’s Athletic Directors Association (ADA), to suspend fall sports competition due to ongoing health concerns.
Though a few member schools are in states where the coronavirus case numbers are either steady or declining, most schools are located in regions where the numbers are rising.
Over half of the conference’s athletic programs are in North Carolina, a state where the COVID-19 numbers have spiked over the past few weeks.
This unfortunate reality has sparked the decision to suspend NCAA sports competition for fall sports, including football, volleyball, cross country, and indoor track for most member schools.
“The decision is informed by the reality that several CIAA member schools are located in states experiencing dramatic increases in new COVID-19 cases,” says a CIAA release.
“This recent rise in cases has led to a pause in phased reopening plans in many of these states, resulting in uncertainty as to whether students will return to campus this fall at several CIAA member institutions.”
“This was a difficult decision but remains consistent with our long-standing priority of always acting in the best interest of our student-athletes, coaches, and support staff,” McWilliams said. “While there will be no athletic competition in the fall, we will continue to support opportunities that enhance the experiences of our student-athletes, member institutions, and partners.”
Ben Baxter, assistant commissioner for strategic communications, hosted a virtual press conference with McWilliams, Virginia State University president and CIAA Board Chair Makola Abdullah and Clyde Doughty, Bowie State University vice president for athletics and CIAA ADA chair. During the discussion, leaders reflected on the conference’s decision to suspend fall sports, what a spring sports schedule would look like, and the financial impact of not holding a fall sports season.
“For the stability of the conference, the ADA has agreed to work as a single entity in addressing these challenges and not seek competitive or financial advantages at the expense of other member schools. All conference members will face institutional concerns with budget constraints, economic concerns, or school enrollment,” Doughty said.
“The ADA strongly believes it is important for the conference to stay unified in its approach to intercollegiate athletic participation, especially during COVID-19. Our No. 1 priority, which is non-negotiable, is to protect the safety and well-being of all participants: student-athletes, coaches, staff, administrators, and spectators.”
While the suspension of fall sports might have been disappointing to student-athletes, coaches, or alumni, scholarships will still be honored for fall sports athletes, says a conference statement.
Moreover, CIAA leadership will explore the possibility of a revised schedule of competition – most likely a conference-only schedule – for football, volleyball, and men’s and women’s cross country during the spring of 2021.
“We’re following the lead of the science and the data, and we have plans in place for a schedule for football should we be able to play,” Doughty said, pointing out the likelihood of member programs having to reallocate funds as a result of the monetary losses from the football season in particular.
“If that comes to fruition, we will be able to play at least our conference games. We are looking to play our conference games in the spring, and we are making plans to do so if things get better medically.”
CIAA leaders have essentially had weekly conversations with Division II colleagues, such as the Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Conference, to make a well-informed decision, McWilliams highlighted.
Correspondingly, the CIAA and SIAC, both of which are HBCU sports conferences primarily based in the South, have released a joint statement concerning fall sports postponement.
“As a conference that runs 14 championships, this makes it very difficult to have to continue to make decisions based on something we have any control of, and that’s COVID-19,” McWilliams said.
“But what I am certain [of] is the challenges that we have faced as a conference for years, different challenges, we’ve always sought opportunities to be better, do better and do what’s in the best interest of our conference, our member institutions and most importantly, our student-athletes.”