With fall sports just around the corner, colleges must decide whether or not allowing competition is safe. But some universities are coming to vastly different conclusions. In the great state of Ohio, Oberlin College and Ohio Wesleyan have already cancelled fall sports. Ohio State University paused all voluntary workouts for student-athletes on campus after individuals tested positive for COVID-19.

The Ivy League and the Patriot League have also cancelled fall sports, while the Big Ten and Pac-12 announced that no non-conference games will be played in an attempt to salvage the season. Big Ten commissioner Kevin Warren even sounded alarm bells, saying, “We may not have sports in the fall.”

Other governing bodies are still unsure what the best decision is for their student-athletes. The Big East, the conference in which Xavier University competes, stated they are, “in the process of making some decisions regarding the 2020-2021 season,” says John Paquette, Big East senior associate commissioner.

Smaller conferences, such as the Heartland Collegiate Athletic Conference (HCAC), can approach the prospect of returning much differently than a conference that is compromised of much larger institutions. The HCAC is home to Cincinnati’s own Mount St. Joseph University, and it competes against similarly sized schools across Ohio, Indiana and Kentucky. These schools have smaller student bodies and class sizes, making it easier to ensure safety.

“Right now, we have developed a phased start date approach for our fall sports, with all of them set to start in early to mid-September,” says HCAC commissioner Jay Jones. As medical information and NCAA directives are modified, the HCAC will adjust its plans to meet all safety guidelines.

“I do believe that we are willing to shift sports in different places on the calendar if it means our student-athletes can safely play the games they love,” says Jones, suggesting that fall sports could potentially occur in the spring.

One thing is for certain: sports won’t feel entirely “normal.” HCAC players will likely need to comply with COVID-19 testing during the season, and game attendees will need to comply with masking and social distancing requirements in three different states. Still, players are sure to be eager to return to play.

“Our students want a well-rounded Division III student-athlete experience, so we are looking at plans B, C, D, etc. also so that they can do what they love while receiving their classroom education,” says Jones.