NJCAA moves most fall sports seasons to spring

Taylor Eldridge The Wichita Eagle (TNS)
Garden City Community College's running back Jadon Hayes breaks through to the open field and score a 22-yard touchdown against Coffeyville last season at Broncbuster Stadium. With the COVID-19 pandemic, the NJCAA announced Monday that football, as well as most other fall sports, will move their seasons to the spring semester.

There will be no football this fall in Kansas at the junior-college level.

The National Junior College Athletic Association announced Monday that it is postponing its football season until spring 2021 due to concerns about the COVID-19 pandemic. Practices will begin on March 1 with the regular season starting on March 25 and extending through May 22. Teams will play a maximum of eight games, with the NJCAA championship and bowl games held on June 3.

Teams will be permitted two months to practice in the fall between Aug. 15 and Nov. 15. The Kansas Jayhawk Conference will have a Tuesday morning meeting with the school presidents to determine if they will allow teams to seek out up to three scrimmages against outside competition this fall.

Monday's news was met with cautious optimism from many around the Jayhawk, which makes up eight of the 54 football-playing members in the NJCAA.

"I'm just excited we didn't cancel the year," Jayhawk commissioner Carl Heinrich said. "That would have been pretty devastating for a lot of schools. We all want sports back, but we don't want to hurry it and risk losing it for a year. To me, this is much better than trying to give it a shot this fall and getting two weeks in and having to cancel the whole season. This give us six months to work and plan and hopefully create a safe environment for our student-athletes and fans."

Heinrich said he has heard little pushback from the league's football coaches.

The Jayhawk is arguably the premier football-playing conference in the NJCAA, so not having football in the fall will be strange. But the coaches are on board with the plan, as long as there is some form of a season in the spring.

"Anytime you don't get to play and be around the guys, it's disappointing," Butler coach Tim Schaffner said. "It's been disappointing since March. Athletics is such a camaraderie business. I miss the competition, but I miss being with the coaches and my players every day even more.

"But at the end of the day, you have to put the safety and well-being of everybody involved first. At this point, we'll make anything work as long as we get to to go out there and do our thing in the spring."

Independence football coach Kiyoshi Harris echoed those sentiments.

"First off, I'm really happy for our kids that we're hopefully going to have some form of football," Harris said. "It's important to give these kids an opportunity to showcase their talent. Of course you're a little disappointed the season won't happen in the fall. Kids are coming off four months of quarantine and they were looking forward to getting to campus and playing ball. But you have to put their safety first above anything else."

One potential piece of fallout from the decision could be how the shift to spring might affect the recruiting of junior-college players. It's typical for players to sign their letters of intent in December, and not rare for some players to graduate early to be on Division I campuses in the spring.

The NJCAA is the first organization to shift its entire season to the spring.

"It will have an impact, there's no doubt about it," Shaffner said. "But we're already prepared for that. It just depends on the trickle down from FBS, FCS, D2, just figuring out what direction they're going to go and then how that impacts us. Right now, if you even try to begin to speculate on what might happen, your head will explode. So once they make an announcement, we'll adjust and be ready for whatever they decide."

The proposal also included a shift in seasons for all fall and winter sports, except men's and women's cross country, which will continue with its fall season spanning from August to November.

Men's and women's basketball will now begin practice on Jan. 11, with those seasons starting Jan. 22 and extending through April 10 with 22-game regular seasons. The NJCAA national championship tournament, held annually in Hutchinson, would begin on April 19.

Baseball, golf, softball, tennis, track and field, volleyball and wrestling will all begin practices in early January with seasons that start later that month and last until April or May. Soccer practices will begin on March 15 with the season spanning from early April to late May.