The Journal Gazette
Saturday, August 01, 2020 1:00 am

NAIA delays football playoffs

Championship to be played in spring

DYLAN SINN | The Journal Gazette

Saint Francis football won't have a chance to win its third national championship in the last five seasons this fall. That will have to wait until the spring.

After announcing Tuesday that national championships for men's and women's soccer, volleyball and cross country will be moved from the fall to the spring, the NAIA has taken the next step and moved the football championship to the spring, as well.

Saint Francis is the only NAIA school in northeast Indiana that plays football. The Cougars won the NAIA national championship in 2016 and 2017 after being runners-up in 2004, 2005 and 2006. 

“It wasn't a shock,” said Saint Francis athletic director Mike McCaffrey, who told The Journal Gazette this week he expected the move to be made. “I felt that it was something the NAIA was going to have to do eventually just as you looked across the country at the different regions that announced they weren't going to play ball this fall. 

“For us, we're glad we get to get after it with these freshmen, let's bring these kids in this fall and let them compete and build towards what we hope is a seven-, eight-, nine-week spring season.”

The NAIA provided individual conferences autonomy to play their regular-season games in the fall, winter or spring. McCaffrey said that Saint Francis will practice and workout in the fall, but is unlikely to have games. The conference the Cougars compete in, the Mid-States Football Association, includes four schools each from Illinois and Michigan, which currently have more restrictions on athletic events than Indiana, making scheduling games difficult.

“The way coach (Kevin) Donley and I have talked about it is, it's going to be a pretty cool experience for our first-year students to come in and get what is essentially a spring ball before they even play,” McCaffrey said. “They can try to earn a spot. We'll have a pretty competitive fall, we may have a scrimmage, I don't know, but as of this moment we're not going to put together a two- or three-game schedule that we get our guys up for and then come down and then gear up for spring.”

Big Ten preparing for delays

The Big Ten has already announced a conference-only schedule in the fall for football, with each team set to play 10 conference games on dates to be released in the coming days.

The conference, however, is still discussing whether it will be possible to start the season on time in September as planned or whether it will have to push the league's opening week – and the December conference championship game – back.

Big Ten commissioner Kevin Warren, who is in his first year on the job, wrote a letter to the league's athletic directors Thursday. The letter, obtained by multiple media sources, said the league will decide “in the next five days” whether preseason camps can begin later this week as planned.

The NCAA is allowing teams to begin camp 29 days prior to their first scheduled game. Starting camp this week would therefore coincide with an early September start for the Big Ten. 

“While we remain hopeful for a start in September 2020, flexibility has been created within our scheduling models to accommodate necessary adjustments,” Warren wrote in the letter. “Consistent with our collective need to be adaptable to changes in circumstances and evolving medical knowledge, even issuing a schedule does not guarantee that competition will occur.”

WHAC makes fall call

The Wolverine-Hoosier Athletic Conference, home of Indiana Tech, announced Friday that it will move its fall sports championships for women's volleyball, men's and women's soccer and men's and women's cross country to the spring. In addition, however, the conference announced that it would permit its member schools to play fall schedules if they choose to do so.

The Warriors announced that they would indeed pursue fall schedules in those sports, as long as they can find willing and able opposing teams.

IU returns to practice

Indiana football restarted voluntary summer workouts Friday after pausing July 17 because of a spate of six positive COVID-19 tests during one testing cycle. Overall, including the data released Friday, the Hoosiers have conducted 480 tests across all athletic programs since teams began returning to Bloomington on June 8 and have had 33 players, coaches and staff test positive.

Starting Monday, the NCAA allows college football teams to enter “enhanced voluntary” workouts, with eight hours per week permitted for weight-lifting, six for film study and six for walk-throughs with coaches. 

Workouts for Michigan State and Rutgers football are still paused after groups of positive tests were announced last week.

Pac-12 releases schedule

The Pac-12 announced the revised 10-game conference schedules for its teams, which will not be permitted to play non-conference contests this season.

The league will open its season Sept. 26, which would usually be Week 4 of the schedule, and will push back its conference championship game from Dec. 4 to Dec. 18 or 19, building in a week between the end of the regular season and the championship to play any games that might have to be postponed. The title game, originally set to be played in Las Vegas, will instead be a home game for the team with the better regular-season record. 

 Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott is still not sure whether the season will actually be played, however.

“I don't know,” Scott told the Associated Press, when asked if the season will happen.

The Associated Press contributed to this report

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