The Big Sky Conference announced Monday several decisions from its Presidents’ Council regarding the 2020-21 athletic season as it relates to restrictions caused by the new coronavirus pandemic and potential progress made in that fight.
The biggest item in that announcement is a vote to allow each school its own decision-making power regarding when athletes will resume practices and competition. In other words, the Big Sky has decided it will not approach the summer and upcoming athletic calendar in an all-or-nothing fashion.
The Big Sky has member schools in eight states, which is a larger footprint than many conferences.
“Those eight states are going to handle coming out of this COVID situation and quarantine differently,” conference Commissioner Tom Wistrcill said in a video posted by the conference. “We could be faced with real-time decisions of some states are able to play at the end of August in volleyball, soccer, football and cross country, and some of our other states might not be able to. So to not have one state holding the others back I think shows a lot of foresight by our leadership in saying that we’re about student-athletes having an opportunity to compete.
“When can we get games going, when can we start to play and then under what rules can we do that? Is it going to be limited fans, is it going to be only certain schools within certain states playing each other? We just don’t know; nobody has a crystal ball in this. But we’re providing our schools the maximum amount of flexibility to give our student-athletes an opportunity to compete.”
One way to address each school’s budget crunch caused by the cancellation of spring sports and to the cash cow of the men’s basketball tournament is to find ways to limit travel. The other items announced Monday by the conference make adjustments to help schools find those savings by limiting travel when compared to a typical season. They include:
SOCCER: After the usual nine-game conference schedule, the points leader will be named conference champion and be named qualifier for the NCAA Tournament. No conference tournament will be played.
SOFTBALL: After the usual 18-game conference schedule, Weber State will host the top four teams (down from six) in the conference tournament.
TRACK: Weber State, which was set to host the 2020 outdoor championships that were canceled, will host in 2021. Idaho State will host the 2021 indoor championships for central travel purposes.
TENNIS: To reduce travel, men’s and women’s tennis will be arranged in a divisional format, with top two teams from each of two divisions will advance to a four-team conference tournament.
VOLLEYBALL: The conference schedule is reduced from 18 to 16 games, with eight opponents each played twice in consecutive days. This reduces travel from nine road trips to four for each school. The conference tournament to be hosted at Northern Colorado is reduced from eight teams to four.
Potential modifications for other sports may be determined later and will be discussed at the conference’s annual offseason meeting to be held the first week of June, the conference said in a news release.