Tennessee Wesleyan’s fall sports teams are again facing uncertainty over when they will get to play.
The NAIA postponed this season’s national championships for men’s soccer, women’s soccer, volleyball and cross country to the spring of 2021, it announced Tuesday. And the Appalachian Athletic Conference (AAC), which TWU competes in, is preparing to discuss how to proceed with the fall sports season in the wake of the NAIA’s decision.
According to TWU Athletic Director Donny Mayfield, the AAC will hold its first meeting on the fall season this afternoon, and it could take several meetings before the league makes a decision.
“I would safely assume that this is going to be a multiple-meeting process,” said Mayfield in an interview with The Daily Post-Athenian.
“It’s not going to be one meeting and it’s done, it’s going to be multiple-meeting process to work out all of these issues.”
The NAIA’s decision still allows individual conferences within the NAIA to compete in the fall and winter if they so choose. That is one option the AAC could consider, according to Mayfield, or it could decide to split the fall season between the fall and the spring, or even move the entirety of fall sports seasons to the spring.
The NAIA still hasn’t announced which dates the fall sports national championships will be rescheduled for this spring, which will be an important factor in any decision.
“We’ve really got to see the dates so that we can actually plan out how we’re going to do it and how other conferences may do it,” Mayfield said. “Some of the models out there are you try to play it all in the fall. There’s some models out there where you try to play maybe half-and-half. There some models where you push everything to the spring. All of that is up to discussion. There’s nothing set on how we’re going to do it as a conference.”
Last week, the AAC had released a statement that it intended to play the 2020 fall sports season. If the AAC were to decide to keep all of the fall season in the fall, organized practices would begin Aug. 15 and competition would start Sept. 5.
If the league seasons remain entirely in the fall, teams who qualify for the national championships could be waiting a few months between their conference tournaments and the NAIA tournament.
“That’s one of the issues you have to look at in terms of trying to complete an entire conference season in the fall, and then having to have your teams wait for a few months to play their national championships,” Mayfield said.
“That does create problems for teams. I think there’s also going to be some opportunities in the spring, though fewer to do that, for some games to occur, so you don’t have such a big delay. There could be some opportunities in the future discussed for those teams.”
And Mayfield mentioned there are some issues with eligibility and academics that could arise with the NAIA championships being moved to spring, or even part of the AAC schedule being moved to spring if that’s the route the league goes.
“A lot of this is just on the table now for discussion, but you could have some concerns with students that graduate in December, and you have concern with students that are running out of eligibility in terms of attendance,” Mayfield said. “And then you’ve got to look at your fall sports having to be certified eligible for both fall and spring. You could have some academic issues there that could pop up. There are a number of obstacles that you’ve got to try to navigate through with this decision.”
But despite those issues that the AAC will need to hash out over the next few weeks, Mayfield approved of the NAIA’s decision, with the COVID-19 pandemic still ongoing and still an ever-developing situation.
Three conferences within the NAIA and a total of 51 institutions had already delayed their fall sports until the spring of 2021 before the NAIA Council of Presidents voted to postpone the national championships.
“I think in the environment that we’re in right now and not being able to predict how things are going to look in November, and knowing that we’ve got three conferences that have decided not to participate this fall and multiple institutions that have made that decision outside of other conferences, I think it was a smart move to make by the organization,” Mayfield said.
“That’s all part of athletics, and we deal with it in other sports, and now we’re just going to have to deal with it in our fall sports. It’s a little more of a challenge in terms of the championships, but in the pandemic that we’re in it’s just one of those obstacles that we’ve got to make decisions on and do the best we can and hopefully create a safe environment for the student-athlete and give them the opportunity to pursue athletics as best we can.”