LA GRANDE — The National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics voted to move its football championship to the spring of 2021, just as it did with the rest of its fall sports.
The vote from the NAIA’s Council of Presidents came down Friday, July 31. Just three days earlier, the council voted to move the NAIA’s other fall sports — women’s volleyball, men’s and women’s cross-country, and men’s and women’s soccer — to the spring.
“The decision regarding the football championship required additional attention since the sport often operates outside of the regular conference structure,” said Dr. Arvid Johnson, COP chair and University of St. Francis president, in a press release from the NAIA. “The extra time allotted was to ensure that the COP representatives had adequate opportunity to gain feedback from their conference colleagues.”
As it did with the earlier ruling this week, the NAIA left the door open for schools or conferences to still compete in the fall if they elect to do so.
“It definitely is in line and makes sense for health and safety of all student athletes to move our fall sports to spring,” said Anji Weissenfluh, EOU athletic director.
The EOU football team — along with College of Idaho and Southern Oregon University — already had made a decision to move their football schedules to the spring, even though the Frontier Conference — which the schools play in for football — was planning to play in the fall. Previously, The Observer reported the three schools were still slated to play with the other Montana-based FC universities.
The Frontier in a press release late Friday afternoon stated it is still planning for an eight-game schedule among the five Montana schools.
That decision by the FC, Weissenfluh said, means Eastern, C of I and SOU all will be looking at options to play an independent schedule.
“We will be reaching out to the NAIA and seeing what the avenues are to declare as an independent,” she said.
Weissenfluh added if the FC does elect to move its fall slate to the spring, she hopes the other three schools could be readded to the schedule.
“If the Frontier Conference decides to delay their regular season, hopefully they will let us be a part of the Frontier Conference,” she said.
It would not be the first time EOU has played an independent schedule. The school began the 21st century playing independently, and did so until it joined the Frontier for the 2006 season.
Weissenfluh said as the school presses forward with a plan for an independent slate, it will work with SOU and C of I and look for other NAIA schools that have made a decision to go independent, and from there look at scheduling NCAA Division II or III schools, if needed, to fill a schedule that could give it an option to contend for a playoff berth.
“We’ll move ahead with that understanding and do what’s best for the three of us,” she said, referring to EOU, SOU and C of I. “We’re in this together.”
Weissenfluh anticipates that the NAIA will announce what its championship dates for the fall will be in the next couple of weeks.
Editor’s note: This story has been updated.