Panther player

NCCC guard Davonte Yates makes a pass against Cloud County in February. Then NjCAA has set plans to put student safety first during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

ROBERT MAGOBET

Three months after the cancellation of junior college sports due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the National Junior College Athletic Association has implemented a plan for upcoming fall and winter sports.

The guidelines, which came out Friday, include safety protocol recommendations for member colleges for regular season play and post-season competition.

For starters, all NJCAA schools are permitted to reopen dorms to student-athletes for the 2020-21 fall, winter and spring sports on July 18. According to the NJCAA COVID-19 update, “The accelerated move-in date will allow member colleges to institute a 14-day quarantine period for student-athletes and implement extra safety precautions as necessary prior to the Aug. 1 start date for fall practice.”

These developments have led to an exception being granted to Article V, Section 7 of the NJCAA Bylaws, which will allow NJCAA colleges to provide or pay for student-athlete COVID-19 testing, if colleges choose to do so. While the exception will specifically apply for the upcoming 2020-21 year, it will be reviewed as needed.

After students have moved in and have been quarantined, those who play fall championship sports – men’s and women’s cross country, football, men’s and women’s half marathon, men’s and women’s soccer, women’s tennis and volleyball – can expect competition to go as planned. The start date for practice is Aug. 1, with the first competition date slated for Aug. 20.

First-year NCCC head soccer coach Jose Lopez said he has one challenge in mind when it comes to starting the season.

“Getting international (students) will be the biggest obstacle, so adjusting to those students,” Lopez said. “They are hopeful they will be able to get in.”

For those who have worked hard enough and are lucky enough to advance to the fall 2020 championships, those dates and locations have been reviewed based upon the nation’s current circumstances. The NJCAA Division I Women’s Soccer Championships in Evans, Ga., is set for Nov. 18-23, a few days after the original planned date of Nov. 16-21. This date was modified due to conflicts with the rescheduled 2020 Masters Tournament in Augusta.

NJCAA has set health protocol recommendations for regular season and championship hosts. Some of those recommendations include member colleges adhering to all state and local regulations and guidelines regarding COVID-19 and reopening, administering temperature checks for all student-athletes, coaches and game personnel prior to each competitions, limiting contact between teams when possible, including the elimination of the pregame and postgame handshake, and limiting student-athlete fan engagement before and after competition. The full list of NJCAA precautions can be found on the NJCAA COVID-19 update webpage.

Fall 2020 non-championship sports will need to be just as proactive. One goal the NJCAA has set is to “allow member colleges adequate time for proper health and safety precautions as student-athletes return to campus.” Once quarantined, fall non-championship sports – baseball, beach volleyball, men’s and women’s golf, men’s and women’s lacrosse, softball and tennis – will be condensed.

The start date for fall non-championship sports is Aug. 31 for practices, with competition beginning Sept. 5 to Oct. 31.

“Hopefully (it) won’t affect fall and appears we have to drop six games (spring season),” NCCC head baseball coach Steve Murry said. “I am letting other conferences finish to see who else must drop games before I act on it.”

First-year head volleyball coach Marisa Compton said she will be ready when the time comes.

“I think the key to this season is to make sure the players understand the need to be adaptable and flexible, while maintaining focus. Also,adjustments will need to be made during preseason practices to account for our student-athletes not participating in organized sports or workouts since the end of March.”   

Winter NJCAA sports will also see changes, especially with increasing uncertainty about a second wave of COVID-19. Men’s and women’s basketball can start practice Sept. 14, while official competition is permitted to start Oct.16. The NJCAA encourages colleges to modify schedules as needed “to limit competition between the Thanksgiving holiday and Jan. 1, 2021.”

NCCC men’s head basketball coach Jeremy Coombs said KJCCC schools agreed on Monday on a 28-game schedule, but the full conference plan will be set later this week.

“The KJCCC athletic directors are meeting today to come up with a plan,” Coombs said. “As a conference, we have already agreed to drop 10 percent of our games so we will only play 28 this year. By the end of the week, we should know what we will do as a conference. (It) will be interesting to see what they do.”

NJCAA wrestling has also been changed for the safety of students. Fall practices will start Oct. 1 and will end Oct. 31. Regular-season practices will start Jan. 1, with the regular season beginning Jan. 20, 2021. The season will commence with the NJCAA Wrestling Championship April 23-24 at the Mid-America Center in Council Bluffs, Iowa.

As of now, the NJCAA will continue with spring championship sports, including practice and competitions, as planned, though the association will provide more guidance as the spring season looms. Additionally, the NJCAA will allow extensions for tryout and audition durations and maximums for fall 2020 sports only in an effort to implement social distancing.

“As the 2020-21 academic and athletic year begins, the NJCAA National Office and Board of Regents will continue to monitor COVID-19 and consider how changing circumstances could impact NJCAA member colleges and student-athletes,” the NJCAA said in a press release. “It is the goal of the NJCAA to provide a pathway to allow opportunities for student-athletes across the country while keeping health and safety a priority. The NJCAA will provide additional updates and information as needed.”

As of June 24, the CDC confirms 2,336,615 total COVID-19 cases and 121,117 deaths around the nation. In Kansas, there are 12,465 cases and 259 deaths. In nearby states, there are 18,577 total cases and 966 deaths in Missouri, 10,759 total cases and 382 total deaths in Oklahoma, and 18,092 total cases and 256 deaths in Nebraska.

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