The NCAA Division III Administrative Committee announced Thursday, June 11, that the first day of practice for Division III fall sports will be Aug. 10 or the first day of classes at an institution, whichever comes first.
The rule previously stated that the first available practice date was two weeks before a team’s first scheduled contest, but with uncertainty surrounding the upcoming season because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the extension means many athletes can return to campus sooner and give teams greater flexibility in planning the season.
“The NCAA is trying to do everything they can to help us prepare and I think a lot of schools are thinking if they can get kids back sooner and have control of their surroundings, a little, it could function,” SUNY Oneonta field hockey coach Kelly Kingsbury told The Daily Star.
The decision is the latest in a series of rule changes for the 2020-2021 academic year geared toward helping schools that may face financial struggles because of the pandemic. The NCAA has already allowed greater contact between coaches and players over the summer because of lost time together during the spring, and the association trimmed the number of contests required for national championship eligibility by 33% for all sports.
Men’s and women’s soccer teams will now need to play just nine games, for example, whereas the previous number of games to be eligible for NCAA championship play was 15. Football teams will only be required to play five games to be eligible. Other standards are available online at ncaa.org.
Kingsbury said that should her team’s season happen similarly to previous years, the additional time to prepare will likely benefit the athletes. She noted that her team’s previous return date was Aug. 17, and that with freshman orientation slated to begin soon thereafter, preseason is often a rushed affair, especially for first-year athletes.
“The acclimatization period has already been a buzzword in the NCAA to make sure they (student-athletes) are ready, because we can’t mandate what they do over the summer a lot of times, so this flexibility makes sure we can help them do what they have to do,” Kingsbury said.
Regarding potential negatives, Kingsbury noted that this may exacerbate one of the issues the NCAA was aiming to address. If schools do elect to have students return to school sooner than usual, that likely will come with additional costs to the institution.