For two weeks, Central Washington University and the 10 colleges in the Great Northwest Athletic Conference knew an announcement on fall sports was coming on July 17 and the news would not likely be good.
With the coronavirus pandemic still not in check and with the prospects of a marked improvement not imminent, the GNAC has suspended all fall sports through Nov. 30.
In Friday’s announcement, the GNAC said it would make a decision by Oct. 15 on a course of action after Nov. 30. It also indicated that discussions are underway for the possibility of having fall sports held in the spring.
“Over the past few months, our athletics staff has diligently explored a multitude of scenarios and options for a safe return to play, but the challenges became insurmountable as an institution and a conference,” said Dennis Francois, CWU Director of Athletics, in a school release.
“The enormity of this decision and its impact on our student-athletes, coaches, staff, and fans is crushing for all of us,” he added. “I am, however, very encouraged by our conference’s commitment regarding the feasibility of a spring championship season for our fall sports.”
CWU’s fall sports include football, volleyball, women’s soccer and men’s and women’s cross country. Central’s football team had an 11-game slate that started at Montana on Sept. 5 and concluded with the season’s fourth home game on Nov. 14 against Western New Mexico.
While contests of any kind for all sports are suspended, regardless if it’s in-season or not, the GNAC’s CEO Board noted in the release that “conference members will have institutional autonomy regarding organized practice activities.”
Central Washington’s fall-sport athletes were notified of the decision in a video conference before the GNAC’s announcement.
“I’m disappointed, as I know our student-athletes are — especially our seniors,” said CWU President James L. Gaudino. “But the conference is making the appropriate decision, placing a priority on the health and safety of everyone involved in our athletic programs.”
CWU’s volleyball program is set to return Naches Valley’s Makala Swart and West Valley’s Julia Mellander, Sydney Remsberg and Alyssa Smith and add incoming freshman Shauny Fisk from Ellensburg. The women’s soccer program has two local standouts in its 2020 recruiting class — Selah’s Baily Thompson and Cle Elum’s Grace Jackson.
The NCAA Division II GNAC features colleges in Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Montana and Alaska and includes Simon Fraser in British Columbia. The 13-member NAIA Cascade Conference also announced on Friday a suspension of fall sports through Nov. 1 and cited one of the issues being the current closure of the U.S.-Canadian border.
“This was not a decision taken lightly but one the Board believes is in the best interests of student-athletes and staff,” said GNAC commissioner Dave Haglund in the conference’s release. “We understand that many will be disappointed and saddened by this news, particularly our seniors. We can only ask for their thoughtful understanding during these challenging and unprecedented times.”
Haglund said that conference governance groups have already engaged in “discussions for providing meaningful seasons of competition for the conference’s fall championship sports, including the feasibility of playing in the spring.”
On July 1, Yakima Valley College announced it was canceling all fall athletic activities, including the full seasons for volleyball and women’s soccer. Training and practices are also suspended for winter and spring sports.
The NWAC later released return-to-play guidelines and it includes starting volleyball and soccer seasons in either February or March. The start of basketball will be delayed until either January or February.