With the country starving for sports, Tuesday's announcement by the NCAA Division II President's Council to reduce the maximum number of playing dates for the 2020-21 school year certainly wasn't popular.
But realistically, it's a decision that had to be made.
"It's a necessary evil," Missouri Southern athletics director Jared Bruggeman said. "It was done strictly for fiscal reasons. It's a big deal, schools finding ways to save money, and this will help with that.
"I love to watch our athletes perform. They want to play games, coaches want to coach games, fans want to see games. We're in support of whatever the MIAA and NCAA feel needs to happen."
"They are going to create some cost savings for us," Pittsburg State athletics director Jim Johnson said. "Everybody will look at that differently. The goal was across all of Division II to create equitable cuts so everybody can share in the pain and help our colleagues out ... who are in some tougher spots than some others. We wanted to put programs in a position to potentially not have to cut positions or cut sports or cut scholarships."
Johnson is the MIAA's representative on the Division II Management Council, which recommended the schedule reductions to the President's Council.
"Our recommendation was based on feedback from three committees," Johnson said. "It was a well thought out process. If anybody says it wasn't, that's just not true. I think we went about it in a very methodical, data-driven way and agreed as a division that we should all be in this together. The results of two surveys were astounding in terms of the support for reductions. It wasn't even close. The survey of athletic directors, the ones who responded, 84% favored reductions. We didn't all agree on the same numbers, but 8.5 out of 10 ADs wanted to do this."
That leaves 16% of the athletics directors opposed.
"There are some ADs who are very unhappy about it," Johnson said. "The Lone Star (Conference) as a whole is very unhappy about it. Some of that is a little astounding to me to be honest. We have (almost) 93,000 people who have lost their life. Schools are closing, people are losing their jobs, and people are getting their salaries cut. And somebody is worried about playing six less basketball games.
"Coaches are upset. They are worried it could be more than a one-year deal, and we've never said this was a multiyear deal. Now we don't know what's going to happen. None of us have a crystal ball with what's going to happen with this virus, but the action that was taken (Tuesday) was for one year only. Period. ... It's been a one-year deal all along."
Maximum playing dates
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Fewer games mean new schedules have to be drawn up.
The MIAA can't just cut a weekend from its football schedule to make it 10 games because some schools would have only four home games. The new schedule will give each school five home games, and every attempt will be made to protect homecoming dates that are already set.
Missouri Southern knows it will lose a home football game because the Lions had six home dates this fall. Pittsburg State will lose a road game.
Basketball and volleyball schedules are being reduced to 22 and 20 games, respectively. Ironically, both sports earlier adopted schedules to play that same number of conference games starting with the 2020-21 season. So decisions need to be made whether to keep that number or reduce it and allow dates for nonconference games.
The revised baseball and softball schedules could allow both sports to begin league play later in the season. And while their seasons will be shortened for the second straight year, adding the two seasons together produces more than the original games allotted, and they are played using just one year of eligibility.
"All the talk about getting back at it and having a chance to perform, that's important," Bruggeman said. "All practice and no play gets old after a while. A lot of things we are doing can be productive. Shortening some seasons, that would allow student-athletes to recuperate differently. Maybe we could have some expanded time off in some seasons. There are options to look at."
When do we start?
Revised schedules provide hope that games are on the way, but how soon is yet to be determined.
"That's the next round of discussion on the national level," Johnson said. "Now we know the number of games, so when do we start, when do we finish and how do we do that. Seasons possibly will start later. They may start later regardless."
But there's still a chance there could be no sports in the fall.
"We're going to work as a league and as a division for the next two months as if we are going to play." Johnson said. "If this doesn't go away or we don't have appropriate testing or all the things you hear about on the news every day ... could the NCAA come in and just say we're not going to have fall sports and we're going to start in January? We might be playing football in January around here. Who knows?
"I think everything is on the table. There is a commitment to not just cancel fall sports and not have them again until the fall of ’21. There is a commitment to play a sports season in the ’20-’21 year, but how that happens, everything is on the table."
Back on campus
The return of sports means students will be back on campus.
"I think that's been a pretty clear message from (NCAA) President (Mark) Emmert, that he doesn't see a way that you can have sports and have student-athletes on campus but other students are not on campus," Johnson said. "That doesn't feel very good. If (Pittsburg State) was online only, no in-person classes, nobody living in the residence halls, dining room closed, I don't see how you could have athletics.
"The California Collegiate Athletic Association, a Division II league, has already announced it will have no fall sports. They announced that fall classes will be online only, and they didn't feel that they could play sports with no in-person classes."
As with previous disasters, sports likely will aid the healing process.
"When all this happened, we canceled the Final Four, the NBA shut down, athletics became very unimportant for a little while," Johnson said. "But now it may be one of the more important things to get us back to normal. It may be one of the important rallying points, therapeutic points. It's going to become important again, and we have to be prepared and ready to go when it is."