To play or not to play? A decision could be coming for Ohio Valley Conference, EIU next week
today at 4:19 pm
On a day when Eastern Illinois had two players honored by the Ohio Valley Conference, the league’s commissioner addressed growing concerns that the fall season may be altered or even outright cancelled.
EIU redshirt junior wide receiver Isaiah Hill and senior linebacker Dytarious Johnson were named to the All-Ohio Valley Conference preseason team.
As of now, the OVC is scheduled to begin its 73rd season of conference football. However, a decision may well be announced next week by the OVC that would directly affect EIU.
While a handful of Football Championship Subdivision (FCS) conferences have announced that there will be no fall season, the OVC has yet to reach its decision.
In a media conference Monday, OVC commissioner Beth DeBauche said that the league’s board of presidents is scheduled to meet virtually the next two Wednesdays and indicated that a decision could possibly be forthcoming.
Back in June the OVC presidents stated it was their intention to play sports in the fall should the medical and scientific evidence support such a move.
“That certainly is our plan. Nothing has changed,” DeBauche said.
What has changed, however, is the spike in positive cases across the country and with it the strong possibilities that fall football could go by the wayside.
Ohio Valley Conference football covers five states — Alabama, Illinois, Kentucky, Missouri and Tennessee.
“Any of our decisions need to make sense with what’s going on from a local health standpoint,” DeBauche said.
In addition to being the OVC commissioner, DeBauche serves as the President of the Division I Collegiate Commissioner’s Association (CCA). Thus, she organizes and leads regular meetings with all 32 Division I conference commissioners at an irregular time in history. Those meetings are being held virtually.
“(Conference) decisions will be independent, but certainly we have a sense of what other leagues are thinking and planning on doing,” DeBauche said.
As for the OVC, the commissioner said that the OVC presidents and chancellors desire a fall sports season.
“If there is a way to let (schools) compete, then try to find a way to let them compete,” DeBauche said of the administrators’ viewpoint.
Conference games only?
Some nonconference games have already been eliminated. For example, the Big Ten announced it would only play league games this fall, wiping out FBS-FCS matchups such as those for Missouri Valley Football Conference members Illinois State and Southern Illinois.
Thus, ISU at Illinois and SIU at Minnesota have been cancelled. Meanwhile, EIU is still scheduled to play SEC member Kentucky in October.
It’s certainly possible that FCS conferences could also pursue league-only schedules.
“We haven’t had a vote on that issue,” DeBauche said. “Right now, most of the focus would be on how to structure to play games safely and appropriately and when we would be able to start.
“Most of the models we’ve looked at focus on shortened schedules, making sure that we could complete a season.”
However, that season could look different for each school. It’s possible that teams could play an unbalanced number of games.
“We need to be nimble . . . we may have to adapt midcourse and change focus as we go,” DeBauche said. “It’s important to have models in our back pocket.”
There has also been national discussion and speculation that football could be moved to the spring.
However, a spring model would create a mosh pit of what have been traditionally fall, spring and to some extent, winter sports. DeBauche noted that would also put added strain on medical and training staffs as well as facilities and event personnel.
Thus, DeBauche has advised schools to be “thoughtful to fall first and make sure we have exhausted all possibilities.”
National FCS writer Craig Haley asked if the OVC would allow its member schools play independent schedules if there’s no fall season across the conference as the Colonial Athletic Association has done; DeBauche noted that while it “makes a great deal of sense” for CAA Football, that may not work for the Ohio Valley Conference.
“It hasn’t been an area of focus at all to date, and I don’t anticipate that will be the direction that we will go,” DeBauche said.
Monday’s media conference ended with a question asking DeBauche if she had a message for any OVC players and coaches who are anxious or antsy for a decision to be made.
“Please know that we understand living in uncertainty is very difficult and we’ll try to provide as much certainty as we can as soon as we are able, but that the primary focus is on the student-athlete and making sure that each student-athlete feels comfortable coming back to school and they’re put in an environment where they feel that it’s safe and healthy to be able to compete,” she said. “These decisions are hard, and they’re hard because we want to do the right things for the student-athletes. And we know that they want play, but we need to ensure that they’re playing in a safe environment before any final decisions can be made.”