CEDAR RAPIDS — Presidents from Midwest Conference schools, including Jonathan Brand of Cornell College, have been trying to work out a plan to return to competition in 2021 after officially postponing all winter sports through the end of 2020.
“Our winter sports currently have competition suspended through Jan. 1,” said Seth Wing, director of athletics for Cornell since the beginning of July and the Rams’ head baseball coach for the past decade. “Our presidents are meeting on Dec. 2 to talk through NCAA and conference protocols to evaluate where we’re at with the spread of COVID-19 within our communities and to assess our ability to leave campus and travel to play one another.”
If and when sports return on the small college level will be determined by several factors, Wing said.
“We have to decide, one, are we OK to (play sports) financially? and then, two, is it OK from a campus community perception to be able to do this? We’ve seen Iowa high schools doing it just fine but, just to comment on that, those students get to go home while our kids live on campus in the dorms. So, it’s a different deal.”
Another obstacle is financing the required compliance needed to participate.
“The testing cost is a big issue,” Wing said. “You have Northern Iowa, a D-1 school, who’s not participating this fall because they didn’t have the testing plan, and/or the (finances) to be able to absorb the cost of doing that. For a Division I program not to be able to do that, certainly for a Division III school it’s even harder.”
Also, how long seasons can last once they’re started will lean heavily on the actions of the athletes themselves.
“We can’t control what our student-athletes do when they walk out of the gym, so there isn’t any additional way to make them stay in their dorms or go straight to class or practice,” Wing said. “They are free to live their lives but what we can control is our game day.”
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Wing believes “it’ll come down to the college presidents within our conference. They will have all of the facts in front of them and we will have very strict game day protocols and screenings that will be in place.”
One way teams like Cornell will try to manage its risk of exposure is to keep its circle as small as possible on game days.
“There will be an inner bubble which is tested frequently,” Wing said. “Those are the people that are going to be allowed in the gym, kind of like the NBA. With us, our inner bubble is our coaches, players, managers and trainers and they will all be part of the testing.”
One advantage Wing has as the AD for a Division III school, that larger schools don’t have, is the possibility of expansion while other educational institutions are being forced to pick and choose which programs to continue.
“With the D-III model, a lot of our athletes help fill the college,” Wing said. “The model is set up for success because we aren’t having to invest in scholarships for our student-athletes. Our scholarships are all based on their merits of academics and service. I could honestly see other divisions going to our model, just because they wouldn’t have to provide athletic scholarships.”
Long story short, football and basketball wouldn’t need to support the other sports the school provides.
“We won’t have to make any cuts at all,” Wing said. “If anything, we would add sports because it helps with the overall enrollment of the college.”
As for predicting the unpredictable, Wing is hopeful for the future.
“I think we are in a good position to have some sort of functional baseball season and spring sports in general,” Wing said. “Just because they are all outdoors and they present such a lower risk. That’s the big deal from our standpoint, minimizing the risk of spread and that’s much easier to do outdoors versus indoors.”