Northwest football was two days away from its first competition of 2020, a scrimmage in Topeka, Kansas, against Washburn on Nov. 7 when 15 positive COVID-19 test results among the Ichabods’ program effectively canceled the matchup.
Those 15 cases resulted in nearly 40 Washburn players having to quarantine, a source told the Northwest Missourian. Washburn Athletics announced Nov. 5 the positive results affected too many players to be able to field a team against the Bearcats.
"We are disappointed for our fans who were looking forward to seeing us and Northwest Missouri play this weekend," Washburn Athletic Director Loren Ferré said in the release. "However, with the numbers of players who will now be in quarantine, and for the safety of the Northwest players and coaching staff as well as Central Missouri's program next week, we will not be able to field a complete team. We will look forward to playing this spring when our football program returns to the field."
After Ferré announced the Ichabods had to cancel, Northwest Director of Athletics Andy Peterson said that he would’ve made the same decision if put in a similar situation.
Four days later, he had to.
“It hurts because it’s not an easy decision,” Peterson said.
Northwest Athletics released a statement Nov. 9 announcing the Bearcats were canceling their scrimmage with Central Missouri, which was scheduled for Nov. 21 in Bearcat Stadium.
The matchup with the Mules was the last chance for competition this fall for Northwest, or at least that’s scheduled. There aren’t any plans to announce makeup dates for either matchup.
The Bearcats, Ichabods and Mules planned to play a trio of scrimmages against each other this fall. The Bearcats’ matchup with the Ichabods was the first of the three. Washburn and Central were supposed to face each other Nov. 14, which Washburn had to cancel. The last to fall was the scrimmage between Northwest and Central.
“I mean, it’s football in a fall where nothing really counts,” Peterson said. “In the grand scheme of things, it doesn’t really matter. In the here and now, it hurts.”
The programs announced the schedule Oct. 19. Three weeks later, none of the games will happen.
"It's hard to describe the disappointment of not being able to compete this fall," Northwest coach Rich Wright said in the press release from Athletics. "We really wanted a chance for our group of seniors to get the opportunity to run out of the tunnel to Bearcat Stadium. Our guys put in the time and effort on the practice field with the intention that it would culminate with some competition. Having to tell them it won't happen is tough. We will put our focus on recruiting and begin preparations for our spring drills."
The Bearcats wanted to play last weekend. The Ichabods did, too. The Bearcats wanted to play Nov. 21. The Mules did, too. Now, all three programs will be spending the rest of the fall the same way they have since last season — not on a football field.
“There’s a sense of excitement around our complex,” Northwest coach Rich Wright said Nov. 2 about the matchup with Washburn. “We’ve been practicing since Sept. 28, so to get to the first week of November and actually have something to look forward to on Saturday, it’s gonna be fun.”
The motivation behind trying to have competition this fall, in any capacity, was to at least have an evaluation of where each program stands, Wright said.
The Bearcats were supposed to have two opportunities to do that. Now they won’t have any.
“I think it’s vitally important,” Wright said Nov. 2 about getting the chance to play another team. “We can try and recreate as much of it as we want to in practice, but game speed is just different. You’re playing against somebody else; it kind of gives you a benchmark of where you’re at as a program and you know what other quality opponents in the league have.”
Despite not having that evaluation period, or really much of anything aside from practice until at least the spring, Peterson said he doesn’t think football is that far behind compared to the rest of Division II programs.
“Football not even having championships this fall, it would’ve been a big feather in our cap,” Peterson said. “I think there’s — I don’t know how many programs in the nation at the Division II level — 90% percent are not playing at all. So, the idea that we were going to get a couple of games in was good. The fact is, we’re not any further behind than anybody else. It just sucks we had to pull the rug out from underneath our kids again, because that’s the part that’s getting really old.”
Peterson said he’s hoping to take the lessons learned from this experiment and apply those to sports that still have a chance at a championship.
Northwest basketball’s season starts Nov. 19 against Northeastern State in Tahlequah, Oklahoma. The men, arguably the best Division II program in the country, will have the chance at a second national title in four years.
Northwest football, after the NCAA canceled fall sport championships, never had that opportunity. After the cancellations of both scrimmages, football won’t have anything at all.
“It stinks,” Peterson said. “It’s part of the conundrum that is COVID-19, though. … This is what’s going to happen.”