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PELLA — Seeking to maximize playing opportunities for its student-athletes while minimizing health and safety risks, Central College, in coordination with other American Rivers Conference institutions, will launch a modified winter sports competition schedules after Jan. 1.

Dutch teams in men’s and women’s basketball, men’s and women’s indoor track and field and wrestling will not stage games, meets or scrimmages prior to that date.

League schedules are still being formulated and will be released soon but athletics director Eric Van Kley said the slates will focus on conference competition and will have fewer competition dates than in the past to reduce health and safety risks. Van Kley, who also serves as head wrestling coach, said the wrestling slate will feature primarily dual meets rather than large tournaments, to enhance safety.

Delaying the winter season start will allow the college to focus on safely concluding the fall sports campaigns while giving staff and winter sports teams additional time to implement NCAA-endorsed resocialization practices as well as enhanced testing procedures. Testing protocols vary for each sport and Van Kley said the delay will allow for better preparation to provide the additional testing required for some of the winter sports.

“As in all aspects of our students’ campus experience at Central this year, we are proceeding in a thoughtful and measured fashion,” President Mark Putnam said. “We’re pleased with the success we’ve seen thus far in conducting limited fall sports competitions as well as with in-person instruction and look forward to offering winter sports competition as well. We are learning, evaluating and adjusting each step of the way. Intercollegiate athletics remain a vital part of a Central education for many of our students and we want to provide those competition opportunities while taking whatever extraordinary measures we can to make that possible while mitigating the COVID-19 health risks.”

Practices will still be permitted prior to Jan. 1. The NCAA will allow basketball and wrestling practices to begin Oct. 1, with a limit of 114 days of athletically related activities. Indoor track and field practices are permitted any time following the start of fall semester classes with a combined indoor/outdoor season limit of 144 days of athletically related activities. However, Van Kley said Central’s practice start dates have not yet been determined and will likely be delayed, given the later competition start.

Among the factors affecting scheduling are the dates of the NCAA Division III winter championships. The NCAA Management and Presidents Councils are expected to establish the dates, field sizes and locations of the championships during meetings in October, acting on the recommendations of the recently expanded NCAA COVID-19 Medical Advisory Group and the Division III Championships Committee. Last week the Championships Committee recommended that national championship brackets and field sizes not exceed 75% of their standard capacity. The committee also voted to reduce the winter sports contest minimums to 50% for teams to reach championships eligibility status in 2021.

Central is conducting modified fall competition schedules for men’s and women’s cross country, men’s and women’s golf, men’s and women’s golf and triathlon. The volleyball, football and men’s and women’s soccer seasons were postponed until spring but the teams are staging, limited small-group workouts.

Van Kley said college leaders continue working with American Rivers staff and officials from other league schools in establishing those squads’ schedules, with release expected by Sept. 30. Teams will participate in less than 50% of each sport’s maximum contest/dates of competition, ensuring student-athletes the option of extending their collegiate athletics careers by one season. On July 8 the NCAA Division III Administrative Committee approved a recommendation from the Division III Committee on Student-Athlete Reinstatement to provide a blanket waiver in all sports that are unable to reach the 50% threshold. Amending the criteria for a season-participation waiver ensures that student-athletes retain the opportunity to have four full seasons of participation opportunities.

Central follows safety guidelines and protocols as established by the Iowa Department of Public Health, Marion County Public Health, the Pella Regional Health Center and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Central collaborates with medical professionals to help lower the risk of COVID-19 exposure and spread. The athletics department is under the guidance of its physician, the college’s senior leadership team and state and local health agencies.

Updates and resources from the college’s efforts to sustain a healthy community can be accessed at central.edu/health.

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