“We will be open for business,” SAC Commissioner Patrick Britz said via videoconference Wednesday night. “Our schools across the four states that we’re in have been working diligently and very hard to have students back on campus this fall. Therefore we do plan on having college athletics within the South Atlantic Conference this fall.”
Just exactly how the fall sports season will look and when it will start for the 13-member NCAA Division II league — which includes regional schools Virginia-Wise, Tusculum, Carson-Newman, Lincoln Memorial and Mars Hill — is still undecided.
A DIFFERENT LOOK
“It’s going to be very different,” Britz said, referring to SAC athletics and likely the 2020-21 academic year as a whole.
“I don’t think there’s any question that COVID-19 is a dance that we’re going to have to live with over the next several months, if not longer than that.”
Britz said school presidents, athletic directors and compliance officers have all been meeting in their respective groups weekly to discuss a variety of topics about the return of athletics. Trainers have also been meeting on a regular basis, he said.
The discussions have included when to begin programs, protocols for testing and procedures should someone test positive for the coronavirus.
While the conference may develop minimum standards for dealing with such topics, Britz said the protocols will be left up to the individual schools.
The league’s footprint covers Tennessee, Virginia, North Carolina and South Carolina.
“Each school is going to have to handle that on their own as far as state and local guidelines and even federal guidelines are mandating for a safe return to campus,” Britz said.
FANS OR NO FANS
Whether to allow fans to attend events also will be left up to individual schools and based on state and local guidelines, Britz said.
“It’s a lot easier to contemplate this for outdoor sports like soccer and field hockey and football,” he said. “It’s going to be a little more of a challenge for volleyball and for basketball when it rolls around. Most schools are optimistic that they can have fans.”
STAYING CLOSE TO HOME
SAC teams will play nonconference games in 2020-21, but those contests will be limited. And with the exception of men’s and women’s basketball, Britz said athletic programs will play their full SAC schedules.
The NCAA has limited the number of games DII schools can play in each sport in 2020-21, making a full slate of SAC basketball games impossible.
The SAC normally plays a 24-game, home-and-home, round-robin schedule in basketball, but DII is limited to a maximum of 22 games this season. SAC schools will play 20.
The plan outlined by Britz calls for each team to play home-and-home series with eight member schools. Two of the series will be determined by the schools’ proximity, and the other six will be determined randomly.
Each team will play four SAC teams only once, two games at home and two on the road, to round out its league schedule.
Britz said the limited schedules will help reduce travel costs while preserving the integrity of conference championships.
“We’ve got to make sure that our schools have a viable conference season to participate in,” he said.