As colleges around the country begin to make tough decisions on how or whether their athletic programs will participate for the 2020-21 season amid the COVID-19 pandemic, Ryan Cordova finds himself in a watch-and-wait mode.
Cordova, the athletic director and men’s basketball coach at Northern New Mexico College, sees the calendar about to turn to July and the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics has yet to announce its plan for the fall season. Cordova said the association’s Council of Presidents executive committee, which oversees athletics, plans to announce Wednesday what teams can expect on the number of games and conference play. Winter sports could receive answers by July 15.
The NAIA is requiring more than 50 percent participation from member schools in each sport in order to have a postseason. Cordova said Northern New Mexico College has yet to commit to competing in cross-country (fall), basketball (winter) and golf (spring) for men and women.
“So, we’re kind of in a wait mode,” Cordova said. “We have suspended a lot of our signings [of players] for right now just because we don’t want to make the commitment and then potentially not have a season.”
Complicating matters is the surge in coronavirus cases in parts of the country, including New Mexico. Cordova said it has caused him and other Northern New Mexico College administrators to proceed cautiously on making decisions for the school year.
“When you listen to all these medical professionals talk about where the spread of this thing is, it is so uncertain,” Cordova said. “Nobody can tell where it’s going, especially if people aren’t going to social distance and wear masks and wash your hands. Those are things that can, according to the professionals, really help with this. When everybody is not bought it in, it’s going to take longer.”
Cordova said workouts for NAIA colleges cannot begin until Aug. 15 and games cannot start until Sept. 12, which lends credence to the notion that each season will start later and be shortened. One of the plans being discussed, Cordova said, is starting basketball practice in November with games beginning in December. Most of those contests will likely be conference games, especially if schedules are shortened by four or five games.
However, a season that starts in January could have serious financial ramifications, especially given the number of “guaranteed money” games NAIA schools like Northern New Mexico College commit to that help fund athletic departments. Cordova said one of those games is scheduled at the University of New Mexico in December.
“I don’t think they’ll push back [the start date] as far as January,” Cordova said. “I can see them potentially starting back up maybe after Thanksgiving break, possibly, or somewhere along those lines. I don’t see it going that deep. If we do get started then, we do have contracts and financial agreements, but they’re not that significant. They’re not like a million dollars like UNM has [in football], but it helps with our budget.”
Cordova added that NAIA is trying to find some flexibility, like moving cross-country’s national championships to the spring. While it would mean distance runners would be competing in track and field at the same time, Cordova said cross-country could commence a week after the track and field championships are held to avoid overtaxing runners. All other sports, though, would remain as scheduled for the moment.
However, Cordova said given how the big picture looks in June, he doesn’t feel confident that the Eagles’ cross-country team will compete in the fall.
“It’s not looking good, to be honest with you,” Cordova said. “My recommendation, and it’s a very conservative one, to our [college] president is possibly not having a fall sports season with cross-country.”
Cordova said that the situation is fluid because new information about the coronavirus dictates decisions. And everything keeps changing daily.
“We’ve got questionnaires that we are basically filling out every week,” Cordova said. “So, they are getting a lot of feedback from member institutions, but it’s ever changing.”
All Cordova can do is wait and watch.