Here is how college athletics in Southern Utah have been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic

SUU running back James Felila scores a rushing touchdown in the fourth quarter, Southern Utah University vs. Stephen F. Austin, Cedar City, Utah, Sept. 14, 2019 | Photo by Jeff Richards, St. George News / Cedar City News

ST. GEORGE — With the announcements from the Big Sky and Western Athletic Conferences coming down that there will be no sports in the fall this year, both Dixie State and Southern Utah University will have no athletic competitions through 2020.

Dixie State football beats Adams State on senior day, 35-10, St. George, Utah, Nov. 16, 2019 | Photo by Ryne Williams, St. George News

While this may seem like bad news, all of the fall sports could be moving to the spring instead. This may lead to sports information departments running around in circles for the entirety of the 2021 spring.

“It’s going to be difficult to manage,” SUU Athletic Director Debbie Corum said about moving all competition to the spring. “We’re going to do it but Bryson (Lester, assistant AD for communications) probably won’t be going to sleep for the whole spring semester. Fortunately, football is one game a week and they do share their facility with track and field but it’s something that can be managed. The problem is going to be our America First Events Center because we’re going to have volleyball, gymnastics, and men’s and women’s basketball. That’s going to be really difficult as far as facilities go.”

Corum also got into the logistics of hosting that many sporting events in the same period of time. The SUU athletic department may have to bring in part-time help for their athletic training department, communications department, operations department, marketing department and more.

It won’t only be the athletic department at SUU, but schools across the country that would be stretched thin, to say the least.

Maizen Fausett of SUU hits a 3-pointer, Utah Valley University at Southern Utah University, Cedar City, Utah, Dec. 7, 2019 | Photo by Jeff Richards, St. George News / Cedar City News

The Big Sky has not announced a decision with regards to their winter sports. This could come as another big hit for the Thunderbirds men’s basketball team that has some big non-conference games scheduled against Kansas and Michigan.

“I’m really happy that the Big Sky decided to delay those because who knows what changes between now and then,” Corum said. “Someone threw out to us that maybe we make a decision in early October for basketball but the athletic directors immediately said absolutely not, we have to make a decision prior to then. I would expect that somewhere maybe mid-September, we’ll make a decision on basketball.”

It has been no less of an issue for Dixie State, which received word this week that the Western Athletic Conference would be suspending fall competition and their football team decided to postpone their season to the spring.

“We’re just trying to make the best of it, keep our student-athletes at the top of our minds, their health, mental as well as physical but their experience as well,” Dixie State Athletic Director Jason Boothe said.

Boothe added that the cost to have a fall season for football would have been a fair amount for a first-year transitioning program. They would have had to have adequate COVID-19 testing to ensure safety. Add that to scheduling troubles and student-athlete health concerns and the university had to make the tough decision.

Quarterback Keaton Mott gets ready to make a pass as the CSU-Pueblo defense pursues, St. George, Utah, Sept. 8, 2019 | Photo by Jacob Griffin, Dixie State Athletics, St. George News

The scheduling for the football team, which was to play independent of a conference, was also crazy due to the fact that more and more conferences around the country started to cancel their fall sports as well. One possible option was going to be a one-year admittance into the Big Sky for football. That all changed when the Big Sky moved football to the spring.

“Even if they were, we didn’t feel like it was going to be something we wanted to do because we wouldn’t be getting enough games in the fall to make it work,” Boothe said. “It just wasn’t going to be a good experience for the student-athletes, no matter who we played. We just weren’t going to have enough games.”

There is a better chance for Dixie State’s football schedule to resume in the spring but Boothe added that there are no guarantees.

He said that if schools agree to play eight or nine conference games during the spring, why could they not add in a game or two for non-conference. If this were to happen, Dixie State would be able to play out a full-length football schedule in the spring.

Overall, the independence for football allowed the university some room to wait and see how conferences decided on the matter. They could make their own decision instead of having decisions made for them.

Due to the fact that they were independent, Boothe confirmed that they were talking with BYU about a possible matchup for the fall season.

SUU running back Thomas Duckett and teammates celebrate after a touchdown late in the fourth quarter, Southern Utah University vs. Stephen F. Austin, Cedar City, Utah, Sept. 14, 2019 | Photo by Jeff Richards, St. George News / Cedar City News

“Being a first-year transition school, we would not have counted for them towards bowl eligibility,” Boothe said. “Now, how many bowls will there be out there for and available to them, I don’t know. They were great … but we never got as far as, hey here’s an offer.”

There is still hope for a BYU matchup if there are no bowl games and there is no FBS playoff in the spring. Boothe said he would think Dixie State would be one of BYU’s first calls if this scenario occurred.

Many coaches across the country were also pushing for the fall football season to resume, either for safety concerns or for others. SUU football coach Demario Warren had his own take on the move.

“I personally wanted to play in the fall because I think the spring brings a whole lot of different viruses in the equation,” Warren said. “The weather is going to change and I’ve never went to a winter conditioning without half our team getting sick. With all this other stuff going on right now, it sounds great. We’ll be prepared if we do play in the spring.”

With a number of scenarios and possible outcomes, there is no set in stone plan for any athletics competition. The situation continues to be fluid and ever-changing.

Corum said the word “difficult” may not be enough to describe navigating the whole ordeal.

“It’s been really difficult,” Corum said. “I think one of the things that’s made it difficult is that the information kept changing that we were getting. The other thing that made it difficult is that, at times you felt like maybe schools were really not looking at the overall good of what we need to do.”

With no college sports being played in Southern Utah during the fall, the only college sporting events left will be BYU’s football team. It looks like the Cougars are going to move ahead with their season and have scheduled four games so far. They will kick off their year against the Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland on Sept. 7.

Copyright St. George News, LLC, 2020, all rights reserved.

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