Conference only: Northern Michigan University's conference, the GLIAC, votes for league-only contests in fall without guarantee of playing at all

By Journal Sports Staff

BAY CITY — Northern Michigan University’s main sports league, the Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference, announced Monday that it will play a conference-only schedule for the fall sports season and is still considering whether those sports can be held at all.

The GLIAC Council of Presidents voted Friday on the matter, according to a league news release.

Similar to what some major NCAA Division I conferences like the Big Ten are doing, the Division II GLIAC said that conference-only scheduling allows member schools additional time to get student-athletes back on campus and through coronavirus monitoring protocols.

It also gives them the necessary time to conduct preseason training in football, volleyball, men’s and women’s soccer, men’s and women’s cross country and women’s tennis.

In its conference-only decision, the Big Ten also cited more control and flexibility over their sports and a better ability to make quick decisions in real time based on current evolving medical advice.

Collegiate athletics as a whole have been on hold since mid-March.

“We recognize that student-athletes are anxious to return to campus and their teams,” GLIAC Commissioner Kris Dunbar said in the news release sent from her office in Bay City. “Throughout the summer, school administrators have put guidelines in place to ensure that student-athletes are properly tested, monitored daily and training safely. I admire the work they have done to put the health and safety of the student-athletes, coaches and support personnel above all.

“At the same time, we’re working toward returning to competition safely.”

The GLIAC statement didn’t give any details about what decisions may go into canceling any fall sports.

Of NMU’s 16 varsity sports from the 2019-20 season, which include men’s and women’s teams in multiple sports such as basketball, just three aren’t GLIAC-affiliated — hockey and men’s and women’s Nordic skiing.

The Wildcats are planning to add several sports this fall or next fall. Non-NCAA, and thus, non-GLIAC sports, will include esports, alpine skiing, Greco-Roman wrestling and weightlifting. Women’s wrestling is an NCAA sport but not currently offered under the GLIAC banner.

Among NMU’s current fall sports, the football team only had two nonconference games on its schedule, at McKendree to open the season on Sept. 5 and home against Ohio Dominican on Oct. 10, leaving eight league games.

The Wildcats’ volleyball team already had an entirely GLIAC match schedule except for two tournaments — the Season Opening Tournament on Sept. 11-12 at a site that was to be determined, and the Conference Crossover, also at a site undetermined, on Oct. 16-17.

The soccer teams also have few nonconference contests. The women’s team had four nonleague encounters, but curiously, they are against fellow GLIAC members Wisconsin-Parkside, Davenport, Northwood and Ferris State in September. The men’s only nonconference games are exhibitions to open the season in late August and early September against St. Cloud State and Wisconsin-Superior.

And the women’s cross country and men’s and women’s golf teams play exclusively at invitationals that almost always include a mixture of league and nonleague schools. No indication was made about the fate of those events.

During the past month, the GLIAC said that its athletic directors, athletic trainers and a league coronavirus task force developed safe competition protocols and updated scheduling modules for fall and winter sports.

The task force is relying on recommendations from the NCAA and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as the league endeavors to return safely to competition. The GLIAC said it is striving toward consistency in coronavirus testing, safe training, travel, hosting and in-game protocols among its dozen members.

GLIAC presidents plan to reconvene in early August to re-evaluate each school’s ability to meet the recommendations put forth by the task force.

Information compiled by Journal Sports Editor Steve Brownlee. His email address is sbrownlee@miningjournal.net.