When the National Junior College Athletic Association announced July 13 it would be moving all fall sports to the spring, it became the first sports entity in the country to announce plans for spring football.
That decision hit pretty close to home.
“There’s some relief that we’re going to be able to have a season,” said Iowa Western head coach Scott Strohmeier. “As much as I wanted to play in the fall, let’s be honest we don’t have the resources that some Division I schools do. We test all of our players, but there’s a lot of junior colleges that don’t. So I don’t know who I’d be playing against in the fall.”
The Council Bluffs school is one of the top junior college programs in the country. They finished the 2019 season ranked Number Four.
They expected to be good again this season, which makes this development even more difficult.
“It was disappointing. I got here in January, we went through winter workouts and then our spring gets canceled,” said quarterback Tripp Carr. “We come back in the summer all excited for fall and they kinda hurt your feelings a little bit with canceling everything. It’s hard to try to prepare yourself after everything you worked for gets taken away, but at the end of the day it is what it is.”
The practices that were scheduled in the spring have been moved to the fall, which allows the team to get its full 60 practices in before the spring season begins. The team is playing eight games instead of the scheduled ten.
Strohmeier says he’s concerned about some of the players who won’t be on the team in the spring.
“I’ve got kids on the team who are committed to Colorado and Oklahoma and graduate in December,” he said. “After they graduate, they’re probably going to go to be with their new team.”
He said as many as 40 percent of the team as it’s now constituted will not play in the spring.
In turn, Strohmeier says this could be a big opportunity for the players who will be here. Some of his guys will be getting increased playing time, which could be a big help in recruitment, especially if NCAA Division I plays the season as scheduled this fall.
“If they’re playing in the fall it would be a real positive because now they can come and recruit our games,” he said. “If we play March 25, the Division I schools will all be out watching those games. It would be after spring camp when they’d have a good look at what they need for their roster and I think that would benefit a lot of our kids.”
This unique opportunity for junior college football is fresh in the minds of the players as well. Junior Colleges are traditionally the places where athletes who aren’t ready for Division I football get to play, hopefully improve and get recruited.
“We didn’t have spring practice this year, and now we’ll be able to make all of that up during the fall,” said redshirt freshman quarterback Drake Day. “So if we’re able to get that practice footage out to Division I schools that would help a lot and it could save me a year of eligibility.”
While Iowa Western prepares for the spring season, much of the college football world is still planning on playing in the fall. The possibility of a spring season remains open for NAIA’s Doane University, but logistics would be considerable.
“It would be a really heavy lift moving fall sports to spring. One thing that concerns me the most is the availability of athletic trainers, because we normally only have four each season,” said Doane athletic director Matt Franzen. “Moving fall sports would quite literally double the amount of student-athletes per trainer. We’re close enough to Lincoln where we could try to find temporary trainers there, but we’d be competing with Nebraska Wesleyan and Concordia for them so I don’t know how that would work.”
Other concerns over a spring season involve game management. Midland University has 33 varsity sports and a lot of planning would have to go into finding venues and coordinating the events if all 33 were going on at the same time.
“We would have to start planning the moment we hear that fall sports are moving to the spring,” said Midland athletic director Dave Gillespie. “We’d have to sit down and figure out who’s doing the scoreboard at every game, who are the sports information people going to be, making sure we have enough open venues for all the games to play in. It would be a lot of work, but we’re quick on our feet and I’m sure we could get it done.”
An unanswered question remains: what happens to future fall sports seasons if all the 2020 fall seasons move to the spring. In football, players and teams playing approximately 20 games in a calendar year would be unprecedented in all levels and it may put the players at more serious risk of injury.
“Football players at the collegiate level play because they love the game so I do think they would want to play two seasons in one year,” Day said. “But with the wear on their bodies I don’t know if we could take that. I think it could go either way for a lot of guys.”
While spring football may have a lot of unanswered questions, all those involved need to remain nimble.
“You can plan all you want but you won’t have control as a nation and as a world we’re fighting coronavirus,” said Hastings College athletic director BJ Pumroy. “But you can’t sit there and go ‘woe is me.’ You have to get ready for anything. We’re playing a game with no rules and we don’t know how long it’s going to last. Things change fast, and you have to learn to adjust and adapt.”