Midwest Conference cancels fall and winter league competitions for 2020-21
By Rich Palzewic
DE PERE – The Midwest Conference (MWC) Presidents Council unanimously announced it will not sponsor league competition, including championships, for fall and winter sports during the 2020-2021 academic year because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
St. Norbert College, a member of the MWC in several sports, has been on hiatus with its athletics since March 15.
Sports affected by the decision are men’s and women’s basketball, men’s and women’s cross country, football, men’s and women’s soccer, men’s and women’s swimming and diving, men’s and women’s indoor track and field and women’s volleyball.
“The ongoing health crisis is something we are taking seriously,” St. Norbert President Brian Bruess said in a statement. “All of our students’ well-being is of utmost concern, and that includes our student-athletes. Athletics will always be an important part of the student experience here, and we look forward to continuing when circumstances allow.”
Athletic Director Tim Bald also spoke to members of the media via videoconference.
“The footprint in the MWC is vast,” he said. “Sometimes, we go through three states, crossing lines and have bus travel for five or more hours. The travel can be as problematic as compared to participating in contests.”
Bald said teams will be allowed to practice and train and could potentially participate in scrimmages and competitions within the college.
“This decision also doesn’t impact men’s and women’s hockey,” Bald said. “With hockey, we are in a single-sport conference (Northern Collegiate Hockey Association), and that decision will also be made soon. I’m not sure how the presidents will vote about hockey. It could be tough to say we are sponsoring (hockey) and not the others. I’m not sure what that optic would look like. I won’t be in the room when the presidents decide. Maybe some will play and others won’t.”
He said the men’s volleyball and men’s and women’s golf teams, which are members of the Northern Athletics Collegiate Conference, will also have their fates decided soon.
Bald said, although COVID-19 testing is expensive, that wasn’t a major factor in the council’s decision.
“The cost of the testing is always in the back of everyone’s minds,” he said. “That cost has come down from initial thoughts, but back in the summer, we were thinking it would cost hundreds of thousands of dollars to make it work. It was going to be near impossible to do that. The cadence at which we have to test has changed as well. It’s a week-to-week thing. We have to live by the same standards that Division does.”
Bald said the testing expense most likely wouldn’t be as bad with the spring sports if those go forward because they are outdoors.”
“Spring sports are also not as high impact,” he said. “We wouldn’t have to do as much testing.”
Bald said Lawrence University, located in Appleton, is testing its entire campus and faculty every week.
He said the angst and anxiety have been on the minds of the coaches and athletes.
“The mental anguish of what COVID-19 has done to our mental state has been tough,” said Bald. “With athletes not being able to play their sports right now, the grumpiness level on campus is at an all-time high. Our student-athletes don’t have that outlet, and it’s much needed. But, we’re no different than any other campus across the country. We’ll be going on a year without sports if this pushes into the spring. If our spring athletes have their seasons canceled again, that would be tough. As I said, I’m hoping because those are outdoors and things are changing, they (won’t be canceled).”
Dan Lukes, sports information director, said the current situation with St. Norbert athletics hasn’t been seen since World War II.
“St. Norbert had about a year and a half during the war when we didn’t have athletics,” he said. “It’s similar to now ─ many Division I schools competed during the war years but smaller schools didn’t. It was more enrollment driven back then.”
St. Norbert student-athletes will return to campus with the general student body for the start of the spring semester Feb. 1.