Two months ago, Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association (CIAA) officials were “very optimistic” that fall sports were going to happen. But the outlook changed as confirmed cases of Covid-19 dramatically increased in states home to several member schools, including North Carolina.
CIAA announced its decision Thursday to suspend fall sports — football, volleyball and cross country — with plans to return in the spring on a modified Division II schedule, if data improves.
League Commissioner Jacqie McWilliams says they’ve been in talks with Dr. Brian Hainline, chief medical officer at the NCAA, and other leagues about what those plans could look like. Early conversations prioritize in-conference matchups over games with non-conference opponents.
“We’ll know more of that in a week or so,” McWilliams told reporters during a teleconference Friday. “I think you’ll see either more decisions whether people are going to continue to play or not to play given what those guidelines are, but hopefully we’ll have more information to understand how that will impact our decisions moving forward for winter and spring.”
It remains uncertain how students will return to campuses this fall, if at all. However, CIAA’s 13 member schools unanimously agreed to honor athletic scholarships for student-athletes who participate in fall sports. In absence of competitions, McWilliams says the league will concentrate on the mental health of its student-athletes and keeping alumni and fans engaged.
Clyde Doughty, president of the league’s athletic directors association and vice president of intercollegiate athletics and recreation at Bowie State University, acknowledged that programs will take a hit without revenue from ticket sales and related items, but the bigger picture is that postponing the fall schedule also allows schools to make financial adjustments.
“The virus Covid-19 impacted all of our revenues from an institutional perspective, so we’re trying to manage those funds as efficiently and effectively as possible,” he explained. “We’re looking at all the different options, and we’re going to use every possible funding source to support all of our sports programs, not only football.”
Still, McWilliams pointed to CIAA’s resiliency through challenges and how the conference has proven it can reinvent itself for the better.
“I feel like we’re the most resilient conference. I think we’re experts in crisis management, actually, in being able to manage the good and the bad,” she proclaimed. “We are a conference that is so beyond just playing the game.”