FHSU Athletics looks to adapt to challenges, uncertainty

Randy Gonzales
Special to Hays Daily News
Fort Hays State University defensive backs Jordan Starks (8), Hayden Kreutzer (13), and Jhimon Preston (3) celebrate a fumble recovery against Northwest Missouri last season at Lewis Field Stadium in Hays.

The Mid-America Intercollegiate Athletics Association took a step closer to playing fall sports with the release Tuesday of the conference’s revised football schedule.

Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the NCAA reduced schedules in all sports for member institutions.

Football was reduced from 11 to 10 games by the NCAA. The MIAA eliminated the original season opener for each team and released a revamped schedule. Fort Hays State University was originally scheduled for six home games in 2020, opening the season at Lewis Field Stadium against conference powerhouse Northwest Missouri State. After a blind draw to put together the new schedule, FHSU will now travel to Northwest Missouri State for the third time in four years. Fort Hays lost its game versus Missouri Southern this year.

“It’s one of those things we can’t control, but it is definitely frustrating,” FHSU athletic director Curtis Hammeke said.

FHSU football will now open the season at home Sept. 12 against Lincoln (Mo.) University. Homecoming will still be Oct. 3, but the opponent will now be Central Missouri instead of Nebraska-Kearney. Game times will be announced at a later date. In addition, no decision has been made yet regarding tailgating and whether fans will be allowed to attend games or attend on a limited basis. The MIAA is expected to have a liability waiver regarding fans attending games.

“Right now, we don’t know what the stands are going to look like and what tailgating is going to look like,” Hammeke said, adding he thinks tailgating could be allowed. “We’re going to have make multiple scenario plans based on seating capacities.”

FHSU officials also are considering having the annual Tiger auction and dinner, a big fundraiser for the athletic department, online this year. Last year’s auction raised a record $377,000.

FHSU generates about $500,000 a year from football and basketball in gate receipts and concessions but will have one fewer home date in football. Men’s women’s basketball will lose six nonconference games when their schedules are released by the MIAA on Thursday. In addition, MIAA volleyball and women’s soccer schedules were scheduled for release Wednesday. Men’s soccer will keep its original conference schedule, eliminating nonconference games. Baseball, softball and tennis schedules are scheduled for release on Friday. In addition to football losing a home game in the revised schedule, men’s and women’s basketball lost their home nonconference dates but will have a full conference schedule.

FHSU screens athletes during summer weightlifting programs and Hammeke said athletes would be screened this fall. Hammeke said the athletic department would continue to consult medical professionals regarding safety measures.

“We’re not going to go blindly into our decision-making protocols,” Hammeke said. “We’re going to seek guidance from our experts.”

Hammeke was cautiously optimistic there would be football in the fall.

“It’s hard to comprehend a fall without football, without sports,” Hammeke said. “It’s hard to imagine a school year starting without them.

“Your whole thought process is geared to how we can make that happen, but in the back of your mind you know there are going to be challenges associated with it.”