Carroll College football players celebrate after defeating Montana Tech on Nov. 9, 2019 at Nelson Stadium in Helena. Carroll's schedule might look different this season because of the coronavirus pandemic. 

HELENA — Carroll College coach Troy Purcell has been staying positive leading up to the 2020 season.

“I think you are always thinking about it in the back of your head, if (the season) is going to happen or not,” Purcell said. “You have to think like the glass is half full. We had a feeling there was going to be a season but just did not know when.”

But now he can start preparing.

This past Monday, the NAIA released its plan to start the fall sports season that has been approved by the Council of Presidents Executive Committee.

Football and the other fall sports can begin once half of the programs across the country have been cleared by local authorities to make sure it’s safe to play.

Right now, Carroll Athletic Director Charlie Gross said more than 40 percent of the NAIA schools have been cleared to play, and he is confident that it will surpass that 50 percent mark.

In Montana, Gov. Steve Bullock has already moved his stay at home order into phase two, which means Carroll and other Frontier Conference football teams can gather in groups of ten or fewer for summer workouts.

If the NAIA’s plan follows through with no setbacks, the practice start date for all sports will be Saturday, Aug. 15.

The start of the season would be pushed back to Sept. 12 for football and give teams only four weeks to prepare for the season.

“Everybody wants more time, but as long as everybody has four weeks, it’s fine,” Purcell said. “Spring ball hurt us a little bit, so these players are really going to have to show what they can do this fall.”

With the football season delayed , the NAIA also approved a reduction in the maximum number of games from 11 down to nine.

Carroll had 10 Frontier Conference games on their original schedule, its first being a home game against Montana Western on Sept. 5, but now Frontier Conference commissioner Kent Paulson said the conference presidents and athletic directors will gather next week via virtual webcasts to consider various schedule options.

While there have been options proposed, neither Gross nor Purcell chose to comment on any specific ones.

“The number of games is going to be the question,” Gross said. “When you have an eight-team conference and you are used to playing 10 conference games, right there tells you the complexity. Whatever the schedule is going to be, it’s not going to look like what was originally proposed.”

No matter how different Carroll’s football schedule looks from years past, the Saints coaching staff is looking toward the future.

And their players have been adjusting well to the changes.

“It’s obvious that this isn’t a normal football season, but there haven’t been any pouty faces,” Purcell said. “We have a lot of guys back and working out with the governor’s guidelines.We are organized and ready to go,” Purcell said.

Other sports

Football was not the only sport that had its start date pushed back by the NAIA.

Other fall sports such as soccer, golf, volleyball and cross country are also allowed to start practicing on Aug. 15, with their seasons starting on Sept. 5.

Cross country will only be able to run seven meets instead of eight, while men’s and women’s soccer will lose four games and volleyball will lose six games.

As of now, the winter sports schedules have not been affected.

Ryan Kuhn covers Carroll College athletics and high school sports for the Independent Record and Follow him on Twitter at @rskuhn

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