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SMSU ATHLETICS: ‘As good of a compromise that we could have’

NSIC delays start of fall sports season by two weeks

Independent file photo Members of the SMSU football team run onto the field before their game against MSU Mankato on Sept. 7, 2019.

MARSHALL — While professional teams and leagues are starting to get their seasons underway this week, high school and college sports are still waiting on the sidelines. It appears the wait will be a little longer for Southwest Minnesota State University and the rest of the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference.

The NSIC announced on Monday that the start of the 2020 fall sports season will be delayed for two weeks. Football, golf and men’s and women’s cross country will be able to have their first permissible practices on Sept. 2, with the first contest to be played on Sept. 26. Volleyball and soccer will start a few days later on Sept. 8 for practices before competition begins on Oct. 2.

SMSU football coach Cory Sauter said they are just happy they still have a season in sight at this stage.

“The fact that we have a shot at a fall season is a positive one; it certainly hasn’t been an ideal summer with all of the changes but we’re ultimately happy we are still getting a season and didn’t get canceled or postponed until the spring,” Sauter said. “It’s about as good of a compromise that we could have with the situation we’re in.”

SMSU Director of Athletics Chris Hmielewski added the decision to push back the start of the season will help them focus on maintaining the health and well-being of their personnel, coaches and student-athletes while providing them enough time to complete a season if COVID-19 continues to change the outlook of the nation.

“When we came together as an administration to formulate a plan for fall, it was based on the guidelines by Division II, the Minnesota Department of Health and the Minnesota State system. We have 16 institutions, some with different state and government structures so we needed to make sure we put our student-athletes’ health and safety first and still preserve the opportunity that if something should happen in the fall, we can pick up the championship season at a later date,” Hmielewski said. “It’s an important piece to providing flexible accommodation in order to try to give ourselves the best chance to compete and offer our student-athletes the best experience possible.”

The delay allows all of the fall sports to have the same number of days (24) between its first practice and contest played. Volleyball will play 15 matches going from Oct. 2-Nov.17, with seven at home while soccer will have 11 matches between Oct. 2-Nov. 6, including five at home.

Mustangs volleyball coach Terry Culhane said it’s going to be a unique approach to their season but knows keeping everyone healthy and safe will be paramount.

“It’s certainly a change. We’ve met with the team and haven’t had that much time to go over everything; I’m sure it was certainly a difficult decision to make and the players might be a little disappointed but their safety is the most important thing,” Culhane said. “We’re hoping we can get a season in and are excited to play with our team. But we talked about how the virus is something you never know when it’s going to affect you or anyone else. I think with our team we’ve tried to focus on the season and it’ll back us up a little bit but there’s not much we can do about it other than try to stay healthy.”

Football reduced its number of games all the way to eight spanning from Sept. 26-Nov. 14. Sauter said they’ll be developing a revamped plan for training camp and they’ll need to utilize every moment they have available to them with the changed day-to-day schedule.

“We’re looking at developing a plan and will be sitting down with our administration and our staff and talk about remapping the fall training camp. Usually during training camp there’s a lot of extra time because there is no school yet, but since we’ll be starting with school potentially going on, we’re not going to have those 10-12 hours to accomplish our mission,” Sauter said. “We also went from 11 games to 10 and now we have eight, so each one will be magnified even more at a high level and it’ll be important that we maximize every minute. There will be a lot of things we’ll be discussing moving forward and what makes the most sense with the time allotted.”

In football, the Mustangs were scheduled to play their home opener on Sept. 18 against the University of Mary in the Ag Bowl. With only four home games on its schedule, SMSU is still planning on holding the Ag Bowl this season, but it will continue to make updates with how it will occur, according to Hmielewski.

“With the decision being made this morning (Monday), we will look at our options; I don’t know when it would happen, but it will happen. We’ll look at the schedule because it’s important not only for SMSU but for the community and our agriculture community,” Hmielewski said. “We’ll tackle some of those decisions this week, but the other important thing is dealing with the state mandates with gatherings and athletics; right now we can have 250 people, so we just need to abide by the guidelines that will be in place at the time.”

With the announcement about the school year from Gov. Tim Walz expected to come later this week, Hmielewski added he feels the conference has put together a solid plan with how they can execute a fall sports season, all while keeping health and safety and a true college experience at the forefront.

“I believe we as the NSIC have put out a good plan to manage this fall; we took a lot into consideration to maintain the health and safety of our personnel and student-athletes and coaches and creating a good experience for our student-athletes,” Hmielewski said. “This will provide some flexibility to maintain those first two goals.”

Sauter said it was helpful to receive the information as quickly as they did and provide some clarity to their players so that they can move towards having a safe and successful season.

“We knew this week was an important one and it’s nice to get a little clarity and give that to our players,” Sauter said. “The best thing for our student-athletes is to have each other through this, so we’re hoping for the best moving forward and that we can practice and play in the safest way possible and have our players get the most out of the college experience. That’s what we want for them.”

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