Twenty-hour work days and an ever evolving situation with no concrete answers made for a busy and interesting last few months for Dr. Christopher Parker and his colleagues at the National Junior College Athletic Association.
Parker, a Halifax County native, is the president and CEO of the association. With the help of the college presidents, board of regents and others, they were the first major athletic association in the country to put a plan in place for the 2020-21 athletic calendar.
The plan of action moves all close-contact sports, including football, into the spring. In a recent interview with The Gazette Virginian, Parker said cross-country, bowling and half marathon events would still be able to compete in the fall, but all other sports will be moved to spring. Football would begin in March and would culminate with a national championship at the beginning of June.
The football season will consist of eight games in the spring and the NJCAA is allowing the school officials to play those games however they see fit. Parker also said they are allowing teams three scrimmages, and they are able to practice up to 60 days in the fall, but only if the school and region allows it.
“That way the kids are still getting exposure and having that engagement for quality control and academic support,” Parker said.
The decision was announced last Monday, and in a release by the NJCAA, titled the 2021 NJCAA plan of action, Parker spoke about the decision.
“Our greatest focus is and always has been providing the best opportunities for our student-athletes. Through a unified effort from our presidential advisory council, the board of regents and leadership staff, our most recent plan of action provides a path that keeps our student-athletes competing at the highest level with proper safety measures in place,” Parker said. “As we move forward as an association, we will continue to provide opportunities for out student-athletes, coaches and all those involved with the NJCAA to be safe and successful,” Parker added.
The NJCAA has received mostly praise from the national and local media, even getting accolades from ESPN regarding the decision. Parker said the move was a total team effort that began when some of the schools in the association began announcing their intention not to play fall sports.
He added that a lot of the positivity was because many of the players were seeing their seasons coming to an abrupt end before they could even get started. With this plan, they now have a chance to play.
“We had a lot of schools that were announcing that no matter what the situation was, that they weren’t going to play fall sports, and it was going to have an impact on their winter sports,” Parker said.
“I was having meetings with the different leaders of division one, two and three as well as the football chairs and it became evident, we had some school presidents on there listening, that we needed to go ahead and adjust our sales and provide an opportunity for as many students to have as successful of a season as possible and that became clear that there would have to be a spring season for everybody,” he added.
The NCAA has yet to make any universal decision regarding fall sports, specifically football. The NCAA, which is the top athletic association in the country, is facing a decision that could affect colleges big and small financially for years.
Many conferences have moved to conference-only schedules, eliminating important out-of-conference games, and more importantly losing games against smaller schools that use those games to make a lot of money. They are often referred to as “buy games” because the larger schools schedule these teams for an easy win and the smaller schools get a big chunk of money for the trouble. Those games aren’t happening this year, and that loss of revenue hurts the smaller schools.
The NJCAA doesn’t have that problem necessarily, but their resources are significantly less than even the smallest NCAA schools.
“When you start seeing the CAA and the Atlantic 10 and the MEAC and CIAA, when all of those have come out and said that fall sports are canceled or looking at contingency plans for the spring, and their resources are significantly more than the resources that our two year colleges have,” Parker said. “From a health and safety prospective, we know that was a challenge providing that much flexibility, but now seeing those dominoes start to fall it is certainly going to be an interesting next two-four weeks,” Parker added.
The behind the scenes of the decision to move fall sports to the spring was filled with long days and meetings with everyone from the top to the bottom to try to find the best way to move forward that would benefit everyone.
“The one constant was change, and we were literally working on this day in and day out, pushing 20 hours a day and when we started getting all the different news it became clearer and clearer that we needed to do what was best for the majority of the association as possible and that was to the push all seasons, except for those couple, to the spring,” Parker said.
“The presidential advisory council, which is a group of presidents from all over the country, and I met and we talked a lot about it and put together a proposal that encompassed the entire country and presented that to the board which is people all over the country and they said that this is the route and path that we needed to go,” he added.
As the big decision has been made, there are still many other things being worked on within the NJCAA to make sure the plan is pulled off with minimal problems. There will be overlap with the seasons now — more than usual — and for some schools that may cause hardships when it comes to transportation for teams. Parker said they understand not every school participates in all sports, but it at least gives them the flexibility and opportunity to evaluate and get prepared for January.
“There are still logistical and other challenges that are going to be forthcoming, and we are still kind of mapping those out as they go because we want to make sure we are providing the best opportunities for recruitments from the four year schools to our students,” Parker said.
Since the coronavirus pandemic began in March, the unknowns when it comes to athletics has caused so many leagues and associations to prepare contingency plan after contingency plan to try and prepare for the upcoming seasons. The long days and constant reshuffling of plans has caused a lot of stress on everyone involved.
“It has been very stressful, but I have got a lot of good people around me that are providing insight and information and for that I am very thankful,” Parker said.
As he looks toward the next steps that the NJCAA must take to continue to look out for the health and safety of everyone involved with athletics at each of their schools, Parker knows these decisions and plans come at an unparalleled time in history.
“It will be the most unique time in college sports or sports history for the entire country since the World War stopped sports years ago.”