Fort Hays State University football fans are likely going to find Lewis Field Stadium sitting empty on Saturday afternoons this fall.
The NCAA Division II Presidents Council announced Wednesday afternoon the cancellation of seven fall sports championships because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
FHSU athletic director Curtis Hammeke thinks that likely also means no fall sports in the regular season in the Mid-America Intercollegiate Athletics Association.
"It doesn’t look like we’re going to have a fall season," said Hammeke, who oversees four men’s and five women’s fall sports at FHSU.
Hammeke said a league conference call Thursday afternoon likely would discuss the council’s directive and what it means for the MIAA.
The Division II presidents made the move on Wednesday after the NCAA Board of Governors directed each division to make a decision.
The Division II presidents also said in their statement there is not an option for fall sports championships to move to the spring. NCAA Division III also announced no fall sports championships.
"The surprise of the announcement was not that they canceled fall sports championships," Hammeke said, "but they did so in a manner that also probably took away any option to play a conference-only schedule."
Hammeke said the NCAA’s current health and safety protocols make it next to impossible for lower division schools to comply. Earlier language in the guidelines was "softer," Hammeke said.
"They will be more stringent than most Division II and lower-level Division I institutions would be able to handle," Hammeke said.
In an email to department staff after the announcement, Hammeke said he told coaches the decision appears to affect the ability to have a conference-only, regular-season schedule.
"We know conference-wide we can’t meet the guidelines to participate," Hammeke said of the enhanced testing and safety protocols. "It’s not just the resources, the funding. It’s the infrastructure — the medical staff, all the people involved in doing it."
Playing a regular season-only schedule for fall sports in the spring also would prove difficult, Hammeke said.
"There are a lot of challenges as far as playing fall sports in the spring," he said. "One is transportation — facilities, transportation, trainers, staff."
With no fall season, the release said, athletes would receive an extension in their athletic eligibility. Hammeke said the conference needs to address practice guidelines with no competitions.
"Our next focus is going to be on what does practice look like for sports this fall," Hammeke said. "How can we accomplish some things and stay engaged with our student-athletes and keep structure in their lives."
Hammeke said that at some point a decision on winter sports will need to be made.
"I don’t think it will be too long before that comes up," he said.
With no fall sports competitions the FHSU athletic budget loses income, most notably in areas of gate receipts, concessions and sponsorships.
"It’s significant, but we knew it was a possibility," Hammeke said.
Hammeke said one option not under consideration is the elimination of any of the school’s 16 sports.
"I don’t think that would make sense here," he said.
The Fort Hays campus will be different without sports in the fall.
"We hate to see it happen," Hammeke said. "But nothing about this school year was going to be normal."