In an ordinary summer, the Dakota County Technical College soccer teams would be gearing up for a fall season scheduled to start in late August.
This summer has been anything but ordinary, of course, and the Blue Knights teams are figuring out how to adapt to a fall without soccer games. The National Junior College Athletic Association decided almost three weeks ago to move “close-contact” fall sports to the spring because of the coronavirus pandemic. DCTC sports affected by the schedule change include volleyball, men’s soccer and women’s soccer.
Mark Obarski, an Eagan High School teacher, is head coach of both DCTC soccer teams. He said players on both teams who committed to the fall season also are committed to playing this spring. They were not surprised by the decision to postpone the season.
“Everybody is on board with this,” Obarski said. “They know the students’ health has to be the first priority, and we’re not going to put anybody at risk.”
The NJCAA will allow fall sports teams to hold fall practices in 2020 if they wish. Obarski said the DCTC soccer teams plan to practice twice a week from Sept. 1 to Oct. 14.
“We’ll follow the (Centers for Disease Control) guidelines for safety and social distancing,” he said. “The practices will be a little different in terms of where everybody can be on the field. The athletes won’t be allowed to stay after practice for any reason other than to get medical attention from a trainer.”
The DCTC men’s program is expected to have 22 to 25 players and the women’s team will have 18 to 20. A spring soccer schedule has not yet been announced, although Obarski said practices likely would start in mid-March, with games beginning in early April.
The soccer teams already have been doing video conferences, and those are expected to continue. And with the Minnesota high school fall season still up in the air, most of Obarski’s recruiting might have to be done virtually, too.
“If there’s a high school season, we’ll get to as many games as we can,” Obarski said.
The pandemic has disrupted college sports nationwide. The Big Ten Conference has canceled all non-conference games in the fall 2020 season, although for now conference games are on. The Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference, the state’s top Division III league, has moved football, volleyball, soccer and cross country to the spring. The Wisconsin Intercollegiate Athletic Conference, also a Division III league, canceled the fall football, volleyball, soccer and cross country seasons and will not make them up in the spring. The Division II Norther Sun Intercollegiate Conference has delayed the start of fall sports, with the first contests now scheduled for late September or early October.
High school update
Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz on Thursday is expected to announce protocol for starting the 2020-21 academic year. Then next week, the Minnesota State High School League likely will decide whether fall sports will take place.
The high school league’s board of directors is scheduled to meet via video conference Tuesday, Aug. 4. The MSHSL assembled a task force to study the feasibility of fall high school sports depending on how much in-school learning the state allows, if any. Minnesota schools have been closed for classes since March, although athletes were allowed to return for practices and workouts in June.
In the spring the MSHSL made it clear it would not authorize sports if students weren’t allowed to be in the building. However, if fall and winter state tournaments were not held in 2020-21, the MSHSL projects a budget deficit of more than $3 million.
As of Thursday, 23 states and the District of Columbia have delayed or canceled fall sports. Illinois, California, Nevada, New Mexico, Virginia, Washington and the District of Columbia have chosen not to have fall football seasons, although they’re expected to try for a spring football season.
Twenty-seven states, including Minnesota, either have committed to starting fall sports on time or have not yet made a decision.