BLUE MOUNTAIN • As larger schools wrestle with what to do with football amid the COVID-19 pandemic, Blue Mountain College did not have that albatross around the neck of its athletics discussion.
As a result, BMC coaches and officials have been able to agree on a plan with other Southern States Athletic Conference teams that they believe provides both flexibility and opportunities for athletes.
The SSAC is a non-football conference within the NAIA, the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics.
“We haven’t had to operate with fear and worry. People are making decisions on football, and they’re sweating that because they understand that if they lose football … what does that do to their athletic budget for the entire year? It drives the whole thing,” Blue Mountain athletics director Will Lowrey said.
The SSAC voted on Wednesday to make adjustments to its fall sports schedule.
Cross-country competition in the fall will still include the SSAC championship event, but the NAIA national meet will be held in the spring.
Volleyball will have a split season with non-conference games in the fall and SSAC games in the spring.
Basketball will play non- conference games in the fall and will play its entire conference schedule after the holiday break.
The SSAC also offers men’s and women’s soccer. Blue Mountain is scheduled to debut its soccer teams in the fall of 2021. SSAC teams this season will play a split schedule like volleyball.
One of the goals of the new schedule was to have as few games as possible during the holiday break.
The BMC academic calendar has been tweaked to conclude the fall semester the day before Thanksgiving.
There are a couple of games to be played after Thanksgiving, but the school has largely been able to avoid costs of housing and feeding athletes at a time when COVID and flu outbreaks could increase.
Lowrey said Blue Mountain at present has been able to keep its buy-out games with larger opponents that help fund the entire athletics program.
“There are so many moving parts right now, so many people canceling games … At this point what we’re seeing is there are almost more opportunities for money games,” Lowrey said.
BMC has had several positive COVID cases among staff who have then self-isolated. Athletes aren’t on campus right now.
Lowery said the school has invested in technology, some of it on cell phones, that will help with contact tracing and other safety protocols when athletes return.
He is pleased with the plan that’s come together.
“This gets us back on the ground to attack this thing,” Lowrey said. “The fear of COVID-19 is real, but at the same time we see light at the end of the tunnel. We believe we’ll get through this stronger.”