Anna Squiers

Anna Squiers is one of UNK volleyball’s top returning players after the Lopers posted a 38-1 record and finished as the runner-ups last season. The Lopers enter this season as arguably the favorite to win the Division II national title.

KEARNEY — University of Nebraska at Kearney’s fall sports team might compete this year despite concerns relating to the COVID-19 pandemic. Some Division II conferences have postponed fall sports and tentatively moved them to the spring, but the MIAA is holding out hope that they can at least play some of the athletic contests this fall.

On Monday, the conference announced fall practices will start Aug. 31 and competition will begin Sept. 28. The change also will cause the fall sports season to be split between the fall and spring. All 14 chancellors and presidents of the 14 conference institutions approved the decision.

UNK athletic director Marc Bauer had two lengthy meetings with the conference’s athletic directors before the chancellors decided on the status of fall sports.

"I think one of the things I was most encouraged about with this decision was that by postponing and at least potentially having sports in the fall, I think it gives us a little more hope," Bauer said. "I think it’s going to be a good feeling. I would much rather delay and give us that opportunity than to cancel. I think that’s really what the decision came down to."

This decision alters the schedule that already was changed on June 1 when Division II put a cap on the total amount of contests a team could compete in during the fall as a way to alleviate financial costs for athletic programs. Practices were set to start as soon as Aug. 10 with contests starting about a month later for the Lopers prior to Monday’s announcement.

With the season starting later, the conference will split the fall sports season between the fall and spring. The UNK football team will play three games in the spring while volleyball and soccer will each have five contests in the spring. The cross country, women’s golf and women’s tennis schedules are to be determined.

Besides allowing universities to play a split season between the fall and spring, the NCAA also has a scheduling model in place where programs can play all their games in the spring. The belief is that the NCAA will host the national tournaments in the spring, Bauer said.

Nine of the 23 Division II conferences have canceled fall sports and pushed them into the spring. The NCAA hasn’t made a decision on the status of Division II fall sports, but Bauer believes that is something it should do to help with the organization of the athletic seasons.

"That’s a really good question, and it’s a question I’ve been asking as well. Why haven’t they stepped in?" Bauer said. "I don’t know why. What I am looking at and what are coaches are looking at right now, it’s a mess. There’s so much uncertainty. The two schedules, it’s not like you’re comparing apples to apples. There are extreme differences here for a lot of reasons."

College athletics is in a unique situation, especially as other amateur and professional sports occur across the country this summer.

Bauer believes the reason college athletics is being handled differently than other sports organizations is that "campus is a community of people that live together versus a Major League baseball park or a Little League park where people just come together to play a game," he said.

Uncertainty remains regarding the status of fall sports. The MIAA chancellors and presidents will reconvene Aug. 3 to discuss the conference’s plan. Bauer hopes sports return this fall to bring some "normalcy" and help local economies, but he also understands it has to be done in a safe manner, he said.

"COVID-19 has been damaging to local economics all across the United States," Bauer said. "Many businesses are reliant on the stimulus brought in by athletics to the community. I am not just talking about the college level, but also the youth level, the high school level and the college level.

"It’s devastating. Our heart goes out to all the businesses in our community. We want to do something that’s going to help bring people back to our community again. But at the end of the day, we have to be smart about this."