The Big Sky Conference announced sweeping changes to a number of athletics schedules and will allow schools to make institutional decisions regarding when student-athletes can return to practice and competition, following a vote by the conference Presidents' Council Monday afternoon.
“As we prepare to enter a year that surely will be unlike any other, I applaud the foresight our leadership has shown in allowing our institutions to make their own decisions within NCAA rules about when it’s appropriate to resume practice and competition on their own campuses,” Commissioner Tom Wistrcill said in the release. “Everyone involved within our governance process -- our SAAC, ADs, SWAs, FARs, Presidents, coaches, and conference staff – has risen to the challenge presented by these unprecedented circumstances. The Big Sky is well-positioned to move forward based on the practical and thoughtful adjustments our membership approved to control expenses while increasing their own flexibility.”
Essentially, the Big Sky will allow schools -- which are in eight different states -- to make decisions based on each school's specific state recommendations going forward during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The changes to the championships and schedules were approved for the 2020-21 academic year only.
Volleyball will play a 16-match regular season conference schedule rather than the normal 18, with the top four teams advancing to the conference’s postseason tournament -- instead of the full field of eight teams. It will be held at defending champion Northern Colorado, which earned that honor by virtue of winning the 2019 regular season.
Each school’s conference slate will feature eight opponents to be played on consecutive days at the same location.
Women’s soccer will stage its usual nine-game regular season. But at the end of the regular season, the team with the most points (or, if necessary, the team that earns the tiebreaker) will be designated as the Big Sky’s automatic qualifier to advance to the NCAA Tournament instead of a conference tournament.
For the second consecutive year, Idaho State will serve as the site for the 2021 Indoor Track & Field championships rather than at the Walkup Skydome in Flagstaff as previously planned. The conference stated the change to Idaho State would allow more schools to bus their teams to the event compared to it being held at NAU, where most would have to use air travel.
Weber State, which was scheduled to host the 2020 Outdoor Track & Field championships, will retain its turn in the rotation and host the 2021 event. It is unclear if NAU will keep its previous spot and host Indoors in 2022.
Both men’s and women’s tennis will compete in a divisional schedule format, with the top two teams from each of the two divisions advancing to a four-team conference championship at a single site to be determined.
The annual Football Kickoff event -- also known as the Big Sky Media Days -- held the last two years in Spokane, Washington, will be conducted remotely this summer as a virtual event. More information will be announced in the coming weeks to the media and fans about how to participate and watch.
Softball will play its expected 18-game regular season conference schedule, after which a four-team conference championship will be staged at Weber State, which was the 2019 (and thus is still the defending) champion.
The conference also is implementing additional adjustments to other operational expenses, the release stated. Modifications to additional sports will be determined in the coming weeks following the conference’s annual Spring Meetings, which will be held remotely during the first week of June.
The Big Sky Conference contributed to this story.
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