BILLINGS — The National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics' Council of Presidents voted Friday to push its football postseason to the spring of 2021 amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
But the Frontier Conference, as of now, is going forward with plans to play a football season this fall, albeit with a much different look.
The NAIA's decision to delay the playoffs, announced in a press release, came after the council voted earlier this week to postpone championships in all other fall sports until the spring.
“The decision regarding the football championship required additional attention since the sport often operates outside of the regular conference structure,” Arvid Johnson, council chair and University of St. Francis (Ind.) president, said in the NAIA's release.
“The extra time allotted was to ensure that the COP representatives had adequate opportunity to gain feedback from their conference colleagues.”
The NAIA's decision still allows its conferences to compete in the fall and winter if they so choose.
The Montana-based Frontier Conference competes in the NAIA. The league's own council of presidents and athletic directors met Friday via videoconference and announced its plan to forge ahead.
A press release quoting league commissioner Kent Paulson read in part:
“At this time the Frontier Conference will play an eight-game round-robin conference schedule among the five Montana schools beginning in the fall of 2020. Practice and contest start dates are those set out by the NAIA guidelines.
“These dates may be subject to change as recommended by the institutions and local health officials. The Frontier Conference will plan to participate in the postseason whenever the NAIA championship dates are set for next spring.”
Earlier this month, the Frontier announced that each of its in-state football teams would play an eight-game schedule beginning Sept. 12, when three of its football-only members — College of Idaho, Eastern Oregon and Southern Oregon — opted out after the Cascade Conference postponed all fall sports.
The league also said its golf and cross country seasons will go on as planned in the fall, and that it “is still discussing schedule options” for volleyball.
The NAIA Council of Presidents noted that the decision to move the football championship from the fall to the spring is more inclusive for all NAIA member institutions, “especially those schools that are restricted by local or state mandates from holding athletics competitions this fall,” the release stated.
“Moving the football championship to the spring was the right thing to do for the well-being of our student-athletes,” NAIA president and CEO Jim Carr said in the release. “The decision also provides additional flexibility for our conferences and institutions to account for regional differences and plan their regular season accordingly.”
When the COVID-19 pandemic truly took hold in the U.S. in March, the NAIA canceled its men's and women's national basketball championships as part of a nationwide shuttering of winter sports competition.
The women's tournament was scheduled to be played at First Interstate Arena at MetraPark in Billings.
Later in March, the NAIA canceled all of its spring sports competition due to coronavirus.
To this point, fall sports programs have been participating in voluntary summer workouts. Football teams in the Frontier are still scheduled to begin official fall practices on Aug. 15.
“These decisions were made with the health and well-being of student-athletes, coaches, administrators and sports communities being placed as a top priority,” Paulson said in the Frontier's statement.
“School administration and safety teams are working hand-in-hand with local community health departments in our various communities along with keeping up to date with the latest Center for Disease Control (CDC) guidelines that are being sent out from the national office regarding the COVID-19 pandemic.”