Heart of America Athletic Conference Commissioner, Lori Thomas, has confirmed that the Heart still intends to resume play this fall according to the guidelines established by the NAIA Council of Presidents (NAIA-COP), the Heart Council of Presidents (COP), and the Heart Task Force.
“While the landscape of the COVID-19 situation remains very fluid, we will continue to adjust our sails and move forward with optimism for the upcoming fall season,” shared Thomas. “Our task force and the COP believe that it is in the best interest of our 14-members to continue the opening of competition this fall as planned. We will closely monitor the situation as it changes throughout the course of the season and follow all safety measures required by state and local governments for each of our institutions. The health and safety of our student-athletes, coaches, officials, administrators, and spectators still remains at the forefront of our planning.”
Member schools can begin practicing on Saturday, August 15th. Men’s soccer, women’s soccer, women’s volleyball, and cross country will open competition no sooner than September 5th with football to follow by opening on September 12th.
“Opening contests in the fall as planned will provide us with the flexibility to adjust schedules as necessary while still getting in quality conference competition while we’re able to,” added Thomas. “If a team is forced to quarantine due to positive cases, we’ll be able to simply postpone those games to the spring versus canceling them altogether.”
The Heart Task Force and Council of Presidents will continue to meet weekly throughout the fall season. This will allow the opportunity to stay on top of any issues and make adjustments if necessary. The conference is expected to release the Heart Promise, a document set to address the best practices for a health and safety competitive environment, prior to the start of fall practices.
The NAIA has announced the postponement of all fall championship events to Spring 2021 and adjustments to the original testing protocol. This decision still allows NAIA conferences to compete in the fall and winter if they so choose while still being able to qualify and participate in national championships.
“We are thankful for the autonomy to do what we feel is best for our conference in this situation. Moving national championships to the spring does not impact all of our competing programs and there is no guarantee that the landscape of the COVID-19 situation will be any different at that time than it is now,” stated Thomas. “We are choosing to focus on what is best for the overwhelming majority of our member institutions and student-athletes. The NAIA had to make a decision based on serving the entire membership, which we fully respect and understand.”