As soon as one person left, two more people stepped into the doorframe of Northwest Director of Athletics Andy Peterson’s office.
He had just answered a few questions, in which he was preparing to answer more about the news announced no more than an hour ago — until a call awaited his attention on line one.
“Do you have just a second?” Peterson asked after a deep breath.
When the phone call was over, Peterson was as ready as he was going to be to talk about the decision that was weighing on his mind for the last few weeks. And whether it was on purpose, or solely by coincidence, Peterson was wearing a black polo on the day that hopes for fall sports died.
The MIAA’s CEO Council issued a news release Friday morning to announce that all fall sports were suspended until Jan. 1, 2021.
Roughly 48 hours before the release was published, Peterson and the rest of the athletic directors among the association proposed suggestions to the council that made the final decision.
“(The NCAA) came out last week and really hammered down, and their recommendations and guidelines really became requirements,” Peterson said. “And so, that’s kinda the straw that broke the camel’s back and got us to the point we’re at now.”
“The MIAA is taking these important actions today to help our athletic departments comply with these new NCAA membership requirements, and to assist our campuses as we continue to address this public health crisis,” Steve Scott said, the President of Pittsburg State University and chairperson of the MIAA’s CEO Council.
Peterson referenced a few alternatives that were discussed, including a possible scaled-down version of the NBA’s bubble format. None of the alternatives, Peterson said, were in the best interest of the student-athletes’ health and safety.
It’s a decision that wasn’t taken lightly at any step in the process, Peterson said. And in all, he added, the status of fall sports was the CEO Council’s choice to make, regardless of any suggestions.
“I think we uncovered and covered up every rock you could think of,” Peterson said. “Each institution is different. What I think it boiled down to at this point is being able to test athletes at the level that the NCAA is requiring isn’t feasible for most of us.”
“Even if the monies are there, even if we had the financial capabilities of doing it, turning around 200 tests in three days — 72 hours — would just be a big load on our infrastructure around here.”
The language in the Council’s release, using suspended instead of canceled, leaves room for the MIAA to explore options of moving those sports to the spring. The priority moving forward is the health and safety of student-athletes, Peterson said.
“You’re just trying to do what’s best for the whole,” Peterson said. “First and foremost, we’ve gotta be in school. If we’re not in school, like we saw in the spring when we had to go online, that pretty much ended everything.”
The release allows for fall sports teams to continue to practice, have meetings and other out-of-season activities, as long as they comply with the NCAA’s Aug. 11 policy clarification.
Still, Peterson said, an athlete having their season uprooted can alter everyday life.
“It really boils down to those 80 hours a week during the preseason, 20-plus during the regular season, countless hours on the bus … to have all of that taken away — to have that support system taken away — but also the end goal taken away, I can’t imagine,” Peterson said. “I can’t fathom or imagine what they’re going through. I know it hurts. I know it sucks, in my seat, to try to do this in this way.”
In addition to suspending fall sports, the release declared that the competition schedule for winter sports will be decided by Oct. 1 at the latest. The same winter athletes that didn’t get to finish their season last school year are left questioning whether they’ll see the start of their season this school year.
Peterson’s attention, as it has been for the last few weeks, will continue to be on multiple things at once. Perhaps the attention will be absorbed by figuring out the logistics of fall sports being played in the spring. Perhaps the attention will be absorbed by figuring out the landscape of fall and winter sports.
It will absolutely be focused on trying to provide something for student-athletes that has been seldom since March, Peterson said.
“We haven’t given them any good news lately,” Peterson said. “We understand that. We hope that we can do as much as we can together in the interim to get back to school and get some sense of normalcy academically going so that in the next few months, hopefully we can give them good news.”
After 20 minutes of lamenting the loss of another athletics season and reflecting on the decisions that led the MIAA to this one, Peterson was done — or so he thought.
Outside of his office, which sits at the top of stairs on the upper level of Lamkin Activity Center, another person awaited Peterson's attention.