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GLIAC suspension: Northern Michigan University’s main sports league calls off all competition until Jan. 1

From left, Northern Michigan University’s Madeline Crowley passes the ball as teammates Sarah Kuehn and Lauren Van Remortel look on during a GLIAC volleyball match against Saginaw Valley State on Sept. 28 at Vandament Arena in Marquette.(Photo courtesy Daryl T. Jarvinen)

MARQUETTE — Northern Michigan and Michigan Tech universities have announced that their main sports league, the Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference, has suspended all its sports competition until Jan. 1 due to the coronavirus/COVID-19 pandemic.

The 12 schools that make up the GLIAC Council of Presidents voted unanimously to take this action with the health and safety of student-athletes, coaches and community members as its top priority, according to sports news releases sent by email on Tuesday morning from both Upper Peninsula institutions.

Their releases were similar to one that was put out by the league, which is headquartered in downstate Bay City.

“The decision to suspend all sports competition this fall was extremely difficult,” GLIAC Commissioner Kris Dunbar said in both schools’ releases. “After thoroughly reviewing federal, state and NCAA SSI (Sport Science Institute) and Board of Governors guidelines, it became apparent that conducting contests and championships this fall was insurmountable.

“My frustration and sadness for the coaches, student-athletes, families and fans is unmitigated. The league will continue to work on protocols for a safe return for our athletic programs, with the health and safety of our student-athletes and staff taking the highest priority.”

Northern Michigan University's Alli Yacko, right, digs the ball after a hard shot from Saginaw Valley State as the Wildcats' Sarah Kuehn looks on in the third set of their GLIAC volleyball match played on Sept. 28 at Vandament Arena in Marquette. (Photo courtesy Daryl T. Jarvinen)

The postponement affects the fall seasons for NMU’s football, volleyball, women’s cross country and men’s and women’s soccer programs, as well as the nonchampionship segments for NMU women’s lacrosse and men’s and women’s golf.

The decision also means delaying the start of the seasons in several Wildcats winter sports, including men’s and women’s basketball, women’s indoor track and field, and men’s and women’s swimming and diving.

Conference members said they will continue to consult with the GLIAC COVID-19 Task Force and monitor developments surrounding the pandemic with state and local health officials, the international World Health Organization, the U.S.-based Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and other government entities.

NMU testing procedures remain in place as additional student-athletes return to campus to progress toward their academic degrees through in-person and online courses.

“We will continue to rely on medical and public health experts to guide our decision-making process,” NMU President Fritz Erickson said in his school’s news release. “While we all want college athletics to return, prioritizing the health and well-being of everyone involved is the right thing to do.”

Davenport quarterback Deion Ford (4) is pressured by Northern Michigan University defenders, from left, Antonio Howard Jr., Jimmy Bynum, John McMullen and Austin Potter in the third quarter of the Wildcats' Homecoming game on Sept. 21 at the Superior Dome in Marquette. (Photo courtesy Daryl T. Jarvinen)

Though intercollegiate competition has been suspended, modified fall practices and workouts are being planned that follow NCAA and GLIAC rules and guidelines, as well as state, local and university safety protocols.

“We will now turn our attention toward formalizing competition schedules that will start on or after Jan. 1, 2021,” NMU Director of Athletics Forrest Karr said in the release. “We hope to provide a positive student-athlete experience despite the challenging circumstances. If possible, we intend to conduct fall sport competitions during the winter and spring. As we get closer to January, we will follow guidance from medical professionals to determine whether the environment is safe allowing a path forward for competition.”

Other members of the league has a similar reaction to NMU.

“This is an extremely difficult decision that the GLIAC had to make,” Michigan Tech Athletic Director Suzanne Sanregret said in its press release. “Our top priority moving forward is to continue to support our student-athletes in every way possible to make sure they have a quality academic and athletic experience.

“We have a robust surveillance testing plan with daily symptom monitoring that will allow us to still hold skill instruction, strength and conditioning, and provide other developmental opportunities to build our student-athletes for seasons to come. Our coaches will face these challenges head-on and develop plans moving forward to support our Huskies.

Northern Michigan University's Ravon Johnson, front, catches a pass over the outstretched arms of Davenport defender Kendall Sawyer in the first quarter of the Wildcats' Homecoming game on Sept. 21 at the Superior Dome in Marquette. Looking on at left is NMU's Mitch Heaton. (Photo courtesy Daryl T. Jarvinen)

“We thank our fans, alumni and supporters for understanding and patience as we navigate through these difficult times.”

Another reaction came from Davenport University’s Dr. Richard Pappas, who is the GLIAC Council of Presidents and Chancellors chairman for 2020-21.

“Our council of presidents and GLIAC athletic directors weighed this decision from every angle, hoping to find a feasible option for student-athletes to compete this fall, but in the end, the potential risks to student-athletes, coaches, support staff and fans made fall competition impossible,” Pappas said in the GLIAC’s and MTU’s release. “Plans to provide fall teams with competition opportunities during the spring semester are a priority for the league. We look forward to getting our student-athletes back on campus so they can resume training, and our members remain devoted to providing a quality student-athlete experience despite these challenging circumstances.”

Student-athletes will be given the option to opt out of playing this year and will be allowed to keep financial aid they receive.

The GLIAC Council of Presidents decision does not impact varsity programs that aren’t part of the GLIAC. At NMU, that includes hockey, men’s and women’s Nordic skiing, and several other new varsity programs, including eSports, men’s and women’s alpine skiing, Greco-Roman wrestling and men’s and women’s weightlifting.

Northern Michigan University's Benjamin Loutsis, left, just misses this Ryan Johnson pass in the first quarter of the Wildcats' Homecoming game against Davenport on Sept. 21 at the Superior Dome in Marquette. Looking for a chance at a play is Panthers' defensive back Jeremy Kelly. (Photo courtesy Daryl T. Jarvinen)

Hockey is a member of the Western Collegiate Hockey Association, while Nordic skiing is in the Central Collegiate Ski Association.

Competition decisions for these programs will be finalized soon.

The announcement affected some other Michigan Tech sports-related events — it is postponing until the fall of 2021 its biannual MTU Sports Hall of Fame induction, the dedication of the VIP Champions Pavilion and Kearly Stadium Press Box, and the 1990 football reunion.

Information compiled by Journal Sports Editor Steve Brownlee. His email address is sbrownlee@miningjournal.net.

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