PITTSBURG, Kan. — It's a sign of hope, a light at the end of the tunnel.
Pittsburg State's home football game on Oct. 31 against Nebraska-Kearney will be the Gorillas' first competition against another school since COVID-19 halted the college sports world in mid-March.
"Us trying to create a sense of normalcy and try to do something good for our student-athletes, No. 1," PSU President Dr. Steve Scott said. "No. 2, this is an amazing community as far as donors. This also benefits the community. It's an uplifting thing.
"One thing we've seen across campus and in the community is a lot of support for this. I walked across campus with one of our administrative assistants the other day, and she said, 'That announcement has lifted people's spirits, that we have something to plan for. We have something to look forward to.' Sports is bigger than just a game in our society. We've canceled a lot of things, but to schedule something and build toward it ... even though we know it's possible we won't get to play. But we felt like we ought to give it a try."
Scott and Gorillas Athletic Director Jim Johnson provided an update about the Gorillas' activities for fall sports on Tuesday afternoon inside the president's conference room.
Earlier this year, the MIAA CEO Council, which is composed of the university presidents, voted there would be no conference schedules or championships for fall sports this year because of the novel coronavirus.
But several days later, Pittsburg State announced it was playing a football game at Stephen F. Austin. Then just a day or two later, the Gorillas, Missouri Western and Nebraska-Kearney announced they would play a round-robin schedule in addition to games against nonleague teams.
"Early on, Jim and I were on the side of let's not cancel the whole fall football season," Scott said. "Let's suspend it. Let's get our kids back in school for a couple of weeks and see how things look. That wasn't the will of the group though. The group voted against that. The group said no, let's not play any fall sports until after Jan. 1. And it was overwhelmingly positive to do that.
"Then after the early (COVID-19) surge and our numbers started coming down and high school sports are underway ... Chiefs are going to play, Big 12 never said that they weren't going to play, Big 10 right that week decided to play and Pac-12 was thinking about playing ... all of a sudden the thought was there ought to be opportunities to let our kids compete. We had another meeting, and the proposal — endorsed by the athletic directors 10-2 — was to (allow) conference schools to play nonconference competition in football. That failed 5-5, but we really didn't need that. The bylaws didn't (say) any way the conference could preclude us from playing. So three of the 12 schools who play football said we'd like to have your blessing, but without it, we still think it's OK for us to play. And that's where we are."
"In the midst of all that was when the CEOs also took action to say no spring season and no 2021 spring champion," Johnson said. "When it became obvious there was not going to be any formal schedule of any sort, that's when we had the action to let every school do its own thing.
"Josh (Looney, Missouri Western athletic director) and I had been working on this for a while. The two of us wanted to find a path if there was one, and we were going to partner up to do that. There were some other ADs who had indicated they might be interested, but then when it came down to we need to make a decision and draw up a schedule so we can look for other games, some of those who had indicated interest didn't follow through with that. Kearney kind of came to the table late. Some things happened out there where they had some restrictions lifted and they hosted some high school games and had great success with hosting events in their stadium. I think that's when they decided that we ought to look at being a part of this.
"The three of us got together, looked at dates, looked at who was playing where next year and came up with we'll go to Western, Western will go to Kearney and Kearney will come here."
The Gorillas will play on five consecutive Saturdays. After the opener against Nebraska-Kearney, they play at Missouri Western, at Stephen F. Austin, at home against Western Colorado and at West Texas A&M. Players will be tested 72 hours before each game.
"Obviously we have a lot of things to think about healthwise with playing in the fall," Johnson said. "But I worry, and I know Brian (Wright, football coach) worries too about the health side of playing in the spring. And if somebody is injured (in the spring), you probably won't get them back by the fall, depending on the injury. You're going to play a pretty competitive segment of football up until May 1 and then turn around and start preparations for ’21 a month or a month and a half later. We just thought trying to keep it as normal as we could with a reduced number of games is a better option."
Newman University in Wichita has scheduled an invitational meet, and a meet with teams from around the country has been scheduled in Lubbock, Texas.
"We're planning to be at both of those," Johnson said. "Track is unique because if you don't have a cross country season, they get to immediately start indoor track in December. Some seniors on those two squads and the continuity, and even though a lot of those student-athletes will jump right into indoor track, Russ (Jewett, cross country coach) took advantage of those couple of opportunities to go run competitively."
Unlike football and cross country, there will be an MIAA schedule and champion in volleyball, but it won't be determined until the spring.
So volleyball activities during the school year have been flipped. The normal spring workouts are being held this fall.
"We're working on the details: ... How many matches? Are they weekly or on weekends? Do we have a tournament at the end?" Johnson said. "We haven't decided any of that, but there will be some sort of MIAA volleyball schedule in the spring.
"Because of that, we're treating the fall like the spring would typically be. We're having normal practices and plan to play a couple of intrasquads and one scrimmage with Central Missouri and Missouri Southern on Nov. 7."