HELENA — The NAIA released guidelines and recommendations relating to the start of the 2020 fall sports season Wednesday.

The 10-page document includes a letter from NAIA President Jim Carr with specifics about return to play, health and safety recommendations, screening, testing, and spectators.

“These guidelines have been developed in good faith based on what we know at this time,” Carr wrote. “Our goal is to adhere to them to the best of our ability, but it is imperative to allow for some flexibility as unforeseen changes arise.”

Early last month, the NAIA announced the date for fall sports to begin practice would be Aug. 15. Schedules will be shorter, with football limited to no more than nine games, volleyball limited to 22 games and men’s and women’s soccer, limited to 14 games.

A fall season can only happen if 50 percent of the participating NAIA institutions in each sport receive clearance from local authorities that it would be safe to play.

NAIA Director of Communications Brad Cygan said the NAIA does not know yet if any sports have hit the threshold and will not know until Aug. 15.

While the NAIA stated that it is optimistic that it will meet the thresholds that are necessary to begin seasons in the fall, it is also assessing the opportunities and challenges if the thresholds are not met. At this time, no decisions have been made.

If or when the thresholds are met, student-athletes, coaches, and those in close contact with student athletes will be required to be screened each day before practice. For games, all participants will also be required to be screened within six hours of the start of the contest.

Those with a temperature greater than 100.4 degrees, medical history relating to common coronavirus symptoms or any self-reported illness will be required to sit out and referred for further COVID-19 testing.

If multiple players on a team are showing symptoms, the school must make the decision whether the team should be removed from playing. More guidelines will be provided in late July or early August.

If there is a fall sports season, the NAIA does not have a position on spectator attendance.

Carroll athletic director Charlie Gross said in late May that he was confident that there would be fans in the stands this fall.

That was also before Montana became one of the states that has seen an increase in coronavirus cases across the country.

As of now, Gov. Steve Bullock has not implemented any new restrictions since reopening in June.

Carr mentioned in his letter that these guidelines could fluctuate if the pandemic gets worse.

“We appreciate your patience as we research many options and gain input from various constituent groups,” he wrote. “Determining requirements during a pandemic is a little like building a house in the sand; while we all desire the strongest foundation possible, we must acknowledge that many elements are outside of our control and can change at any moment.”

Ryan Kuhn covers Carroll College athletics and high school sports for the Independent Record and 406mtsports.com. Follow him on Twitter at @rskuhn

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