Northwest Athletic Conference athletes get a bit of a reprieve after a tumultuous eight months which saw the basketball championships and the spring 2020 seasons canceled, along with the fall 2020 season pushed back to 2021, due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
On Monday, the NWAC Executive Board approved a waiver that allows athletes to not be charged a year of eligibility for the 2020-21 season, regardless of the amount of games/matches played.
NWAC colleges were also given the ability to award an aid/tuition grant waiver to athletes along with eligibility waiver. The aid/tuition grant waiver will not count towards the maximum-allowable grant in aid awards per sport for returning sophomores during the 2021-22 season.
In a press release, NWAC Executive Board Chair and Pierce College Athletic Director Duncan Stevenson said, “During these very difficult and uncertain times, the Executive Board has worked diligently to make thoughtful decisions in the best interest of our student-athletes and member institutions. The board’s decision to grant a blanket waiver for 2020-21, not charging our student-athletes a year of eligibility, allows our institutions and students to participate and compete to whatever degree they are able this year.”
NWAC Executive Director Marco Azurdia said in the press release that the waiver helps put athletes, coaches and colleges more at ease, and as the conference continues to work around the pandemic, hopefully it provides a sense of stability as well.
It’s a welcome decision for Centralia College coaches who saw the NWAC basketball championships canceled in March, followed by the cancelation of all spring sports, which affected the Trailblazers’ baseball, softball and women’s golf teams.
Centralia College men’s basketball coach Jason Moir said he’s never seen an all-encompassing eligibility rule like this implemented before in college sports.
“The importance is this would allow us and our players basically a free year,” Moir said. “That has huge benefits for players because it gives them this year to develop physically, mentally and their skill.”
Moir said it’s too early to determine if or how many of his players would use the eligibility waiver and stay to play another year, but expects some of his athletes could end up utilizing it.
“I would think all would want to if they do not get recruited to the next level,” Moir said. “We would probably not bring anyone back if they complete their degree and are academically ready to transfer.”
The upcoming seasons will look a lot different than in years past. The NWAC modified its athletic calendar for the 2020-21 season on July 9, updating it again in August, which moved all fall sports to 2021 start dates. Teams are now using a color-phased return-to-sports guideline (gray, red, yellow, green and blue).
Gray phase is a two-week re-entry plan, which involves quarantining for 14 days
Red phase allows small group training based on local health authority restrictions
Yellow phase allows for full team practices with social-distancing measures
Green phase includes full team practices and games with the reopening of gyms
Blue phase is a return to normal operations once treatment and vaccinations are available
Players are required to track and record every place they travel using an online spreadsheet. It helps the team determine whether or not a player is at risk if there is an outbreak somewhere in the county. And if any player contracts COVID-19 during these phases, the team has to start all the way back at phase one.
Centralia College softball has been practicing using this system since early October, and coach Katie Aden said a couple things went through her head when she first heard about the new waiver.
“One, I’m excited for the athletes because this is such a twist and turn of everything,” Aden said. “Even if we can play some games, they’re really just not getting the season that they would have had.”
The second part is a little tougher. Aden now needs to sit down and talk to her players about what their gameplans are for the future. Do they plan on staying an extra year? If so, that changes Aden’s recruiting plan, something she’s already in the middle of constructing.
Being at a two-year college, most of the players will earn their AA after two years and move on to a university. But Aden said she has at least one or two players who are considering using that extra year of eligibility and coming back for another season.
“Our plan is we’re really just sitting down and thinking about what the next step is for everybody, because this really could change people’s plans in a big way,” Aden said. “It definitely makes it tough.”
Currently, the only NWAC sports season that has played recently is women’s golf, with five invitationals played in September and October. The Trailblazers did not participate as two of their players decided to stay home this fall due to the pandemic and either work and/or take classes online, Centralia College Athletic Director Bob Peters said in an email Tuesday.
The modified athletic calendar currently has the fall sports of cross country, volleyball and soccer scheduled to begin competition on Feb. 13, 2021. For winter sports, basketball is also scheduled to begin Feb. 13, 2021. And spring sports, which includes baseball, softball, golf, tennis and track and field, are all scheduled to begin on Feb. 13, 2021 as well.
Throughout the year the conference will continue to assess academic and participation requirements for the 2021-22. Any proposed changes will go to the executive board for their review, adoption and approval.