GSC, UWF Fall Sports Delayed
The start of fall sports at the University of West Florida and other universities in the Gulf South Conference has been delayed. That means student-athletes participating in volleyball, soccer, and football are now set to begin play the last week of September or the first week of October.
The topic of if and when fall sports could begin amid the coronavirus pandemic has resulted in ongoing conversations among GSC Commissioner Matt Wilson and member institution administrators.
“Commissioner Wilson met with the Board of Directors and we decided this is the next step to take is to delay it to give ourselves a little more runway with an eye toward still playing in the fall,” said Nick Moeller is assistant commissioner for communications for the GSC.
One factor in the decision was realization within the conference that current conditions are not conducive to what had been scheduled.
“So, maybe this will give us a little more runway and more time to figure out is it viable to play in the fall and maybe what we need to do make sure our student-athletes have a safe environment,” he said.
Moeller acknowledges that planning in the midst of a pandemic is new territory for everyone involved. In terms of the many factors considered, he says it might be easier to list those that were not on the table for discussion.
“You have to think about class time, heightened travel, availability of opponents, eligibility talking about eligibility, making sure the seasons are meaningful, staff workload and making sure all the games can go on and still provide some sort of game-day experience,” he explained.
“There’s everything. You have to factor in everything and as soon as you think of one thing, that affects something else.”
The delay to the start of fall competition is the best one that could be made at this time, according to UWF Athletics Director Dave Scott.
“It buys some more time to work out processes and what it might look like,” he said. “And, you know, it still means we have to work out some things to be able to play and those things still have to be worked out before we can do it.”
When it comes to the challenges faced by the conference and member institutions as they try to restart athletics, Scott has his own long list.
“Every day there’re new recommended guidelines through the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention). There’re updates from the governor’s office,” Scott began. “You’re talking about a conference that involves five different states. How do you travel your student athletes? Are the things you’re doing at your institution the same as the things that the institution you’re traveling to are doing? And, what are those processes as far as health screenings, temperature checks, and testing that might be happening on those campuses to move in a safer direction?
In addition to the delay in the start of fall competition, schedules for soccer, volleyball, and football will be limited to conference opponents. Scott says shortened seasons have their pros and cons when it comes to the financial impact on UWF Athletics.
“There will be a financial hit, especially from not having football with the ticket sales and fans and the revenue from corporate sponsorships,” said Scott. “However, we hope to balance that with less travel, the cost associated with playing games, so we’ll see where that falls out as we move through the fall semester and we start to track those things.”
Scott says the athletics office has fielded numerous questions over the past few weeks from student-athletes on when to return and from supporters about whether there will be games. On that front, he’s not 100 percent sure.
“I mean we’re doing our best to prepare for that,” he said. “But, I still think it’s not a given that we’re going to have fall sports. There’re still processes we have to work out to ensure we have safer competition.”
If there are games this fall, there are numerous details, including jurisdictional issues, in determining whether fans will be allowed to attend.
With the announced delay in competition until late September or early October, teams are now on track to begin practices by the end of August.
Meantime, administrators across the Gulf South Conference are continuing to meet to work on the drafting of schedules and other details.
“So, I think it’s going to be a lot of collaboration between all the schools and the conference office to try and figure out what can work for our student-athletes,” added the GSC’s Nick Moeller in reference to the remaining issues involved with getting the student-athletes back in action.
Most important he says is, “What’s going to be the best to give them a meaningful season of competition in the fall, while also focusing on their health and safety.”