Barring any unforeseen circumstances, fall sports will go on at Dalton State College this year, according to the school’s athletic director, Jon Jaudon.
The NAIA, the governing athletic association that Roadrunner athletic teams compete under, last week released a statement detailing guidance for the return of fall sports in 2020, including the requirement that a certain number of teams be cleared to play, a reduced schedule and a pushed-back practice date.
With the outbreak of the new coronavirus (COVID-19) playing havoc with schedules and plans, Jaudon just hopes that those pesky unforeseen circumstances don’t keep happening at the rate they have so far this year.
“Lord willing, we’ll continue to pursue intercollegiate athletics in the fall,” Jaudon said. “This thing changes like the wind, so we have to be flexible in how we approach things. Right now, we’re planning to go at it like we always do.”
Dalton State doesn’t field a football team, but has a men’s and women’s soccer squad and a cross country team that are scheduled to return in the fall, should all go well. Basketball typically starts its season in October.
According to the NAIA guidelines for a return, half of all participating institutions must be cleared to return to play by local officials. For example, 188 men’s soccer teams compete in the NAIA, so 94 would need to be cleared for a return.
“The rationale for this decision is that a significant number of institutions need to participate to offer student-athletes a significant competitive and championship-caliber experience,” the NAIA statement reads. “Additionally, the fewer the number of participating programs, the higher the likelihood for scheduling challenges leading to increased travel costs and missed class time.”
Fall sports teams can begin practicing Aug. 15. Dalton State students are scheduled to return to campus for classes on Aug. 10. Soccer and cross country seasons can begin Sept. 5.
“We’ll gradually begin reopening campus to staff and faculty between now and then.” Jaudon said.
Due to the later start time, the maximum number of games allowed in a schedule by the NAIA this fall will be 14 for soccer, down from a normal 18, and seven cross country meets instead of the usual eight.
The NAIA has not yet ruled on any changes for winter or spring sports, which includes Dalton State’s basketball, golf and track programs, and intends as of the release of the statement to hold championships for fall sports.
“Obviously we cannot predict what will happen in the next six months, but we are optimistic that the championships will be hosted as planned,” the statement reads.
In addition to the NAIA guidance, Dalton State athletics programs will put several precautionary procedures in place to try to keep athletes as safe as possible in a return to activity.
“The biggest thing we’re going to do is have our student athletes complete a health questionnaire and have their temperature taken on a daily basis,” Jaudon said.
Through an online form, athletes will answer questions on every day that they’re set to practice, travel or compete with the team, and any red flags that are raised can lead to a student athlete being isolated.
“It’s kind of hard to social distance when you’re playing soccer, but we hope that that’s where the questionnaire can help,” Jaudon said.
Jaudon said that plans to combat exposure can take time when done correctly.
“Everyone is impatient to get back out there, but we certainly can’t risk the health of an individual,” Jaudon said. “We have to be prudent in how we approach this.”