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NWAC SPORTS: With a lot of unknown, conference opts not to hold championship tournaments

by JASON ELLIOTT
Sports Writer | December 16, 2020 1:25 AM

With a lot of unknown still surrounding the Northwest Athletic Conference due to the COVID-19 pandemic, conference officials made one thing known to its member programs on Sunday.

For this year, at least, there will be no conference championship tournaments for the 2020-21 season.

“I just think there’s so much speculation and so many programs in the conference that are unsure of when they’re going to get going,” NIC athletic director Bobby Lee said. “So we’re going to try to play intraregional games this year. Across the board, we just don’t know how many schools are going to be able to participate this year.”

All but one of NIC's programs are affected by the NWAC's ruling in its updated Return-To-Play Plan.

NIC’s wrestling program, which competes in the NJCAA is not affected by the decision, and will begin practice on Jan. 4, with the first matches scheduled for Jan. 20.

The conference had originally set a start date of Feb. 14 for volleyball, men’s basketball and women’s basketball. The first competition in men’s and women’s soccer was scheduled for late March.

The plan is for NIC, a member of the NWAC's East Region, to just play the other teams in the East Region.

Other East Region schools are: Big Bend Community College in Moses Lake, Blue Mountain Community College in Pendleton, Ore., Columbia Basin College in Pasco, the Community Colleges of Spokane, Treasure Valley Community College in Ontario, Ore., Walla Walla Community College, Wenatchee Valley Community College and Yakima Valley College.

For 2020-21, regardless of the amount of games/matches played, student athletes will not be charged a year of eligibility, according to Lee.

The 2019-20 men's basketball and women's basketball championships, as well as all spring sports championships, were canceled due to the pandemic.

The first games of 2021 will now begin on March 1 — if then.

For the school term, NIC is on a semester schedule, with the spring term beginning on Jan. 11, 2021. Some programs in the East Region are on a quarterly schedule.

“We’re going to meet with our administrators and see if we have a plan in place,” Lee said. “As of Dec. 15, we will be ready to participate on March 1. But we’re not sure if we’ll have anyone to play at that point. A lot of the schools are talking to their presidents and administration and have a few schools that might not participate.”

Lee said the East Region athletic directors have another meeting scheduled for next week to discuss how to proceed.

“There’s a difference between how things are in Idaho, Washington and Oregon right now,” Lee said. “I think the big thing is the local health authorities and what each institutional policy is. If we were to start playing now, we wouldn’t have fans in the stands.”

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