At long last, sports on the verge of returning to Trinity


The team cools down after weight training Photo credit: Kate Nuelle

photo by Kate Nuelle

As the end of the year draws to a close and the spring semester moves ever closer, the prospect of sports returning to Trinity is looking more and more real. Both the Southern Athletic Association (SAA) and the Southern Collegiate Athletic Conference (SCAC) have approved tentative schedules for play to resume in the spring, which are currently in the process of being finalized.

The tentative schedule approved by the SAA’s Council of Presidents for football is a season that would take place in February. Because the schedule has only been approved on a tentative basis, it is still subject to change based on what restrictions will be in place closer to February and how many schools in the conference choose to commit to the schedule on Dec. 1st.

Some earmarks of the modified schedule would be a shorter-than-normal season, in which teams would play four games against regional teams designated by an East-West split. The top two teams from each region would then play each other for the conference championship. Justin Parker, the Associate Director of Athletics and Sports Information Director, explained the logic behind this choice.

“With the SAA being so spread out geographically, a lot of times it would be harder on our teams to get on a plane right now with all the COVID restrictions. Whether it be Trinity or the CDC, or whatever it is — San Antonio even—it’s hard to say whether or not we can get on a plane and come back without being quarantined, and so they tried to come up with a schedule that was as regional as they could get it for such a geographically diverse conference,” Parker explained. “And so you know, you end up playing Austin College a couple times in this proposal. You play Hendrix in Arkansas, and you play I believe Millsaps in Mississippi, which even though they aren’t super close, they are the closest ones in the conference for football. And so they’re able to do those on bus trips, instead of, you know, flying to Georgia to play Berry or flying to Kentucky to play Centre, you kind of have eliminated some of that. And so it made it a little more feasible for the schools to be able to play that kind of a schedule.”

The tentative schedule in question proposed to the SAA President’s Council and selected by the conference was developed by Trinity, according to Head Football Coach, Jerheme Urban.

“We actually put together a schedule here. And we presented it to the conference. And the conference actually selected the Trinity schedule, to be the model that we would go off of conference wide. So you know, we kind of put together the East-West split, talked about where we would meet for your fifth game, kind of conference championship weekend type of a deal,” said Urban.

The SAA schedule does not apply to Trinity’s other 17 sports, which are all a part of SCAC. Similarly to SAA, SCAC is in the process of putting together schedules for all of their sports, including the winter and fall sports that did not get to play this semester. The prospect of putting together a schedule for Spring 2021 presents some unique challenges. The first, according to Parker, is NCAA requirements which can vary depending on whether a sport is categorized as high risk, medium risk, or low risk.

The second is an attempt to minimize contact between teams for safety. According to Parker, the latest proposal as of Nov. 6th would have teams playing each other multiple times in a row. Where a normal season of volleyball or basketball would have the Trinity team play opponents from one school on a Friday and a different team on Saturday, the proposed schedule would have Trinity playing the same team on both Friday and Saturday.

According to Parker, the logic behind this choice is that on any given weekend, those two teams are the only ones in contact with one another, so that if a problem occurs it won’t impact all the teams in that sport.

An added difficulty is that — best case scenario — we will see all 18 sports played at the same time. As of now, spring sports have not been canceled or affected by the pandemic, so they will have a regular season alongside the shorter seasons of fall and winter sports.

The obvious conflict that comes to mind are sports like basketball and volleyball, which use the same facilities, and will require extra consideration when putting schedules together.

The other conflict is a scarcity of resources. Parker anticipates that due to budget cuts schools are less likely to send additional personnel to away games, so Trinity staff may have to juggle in order to cover all the games at once. The game day experience may look different in the spring, with toned down broadcast coverage and minimal announcing because teams will have to share resources.

With these challenges, a realistic time frame to expect sports schedules to be released is by Thanksgiving, according to Parker.

“I think what we’re trying, what we’re shooting for, is kind of before Thanksgiving, because that’s kind of the endpoint for you know, everybody’s supposed to go home at that point. And I think we want to send everyone off with the knowledge of like, here’s when the games are going to be, here’s when we’re going to start,” Parker stated.

Even with these challenges, the prospect of sports returning is exciting for the staff at the Department of Athletics and for the student-athletes.

“I am extremely excited to be playing football again even though it’s in the spring and a shorter season. […] Regardless of when the season occurs or the length, I’m just happy to be out on the field with my brothers enjoying the game I love,” said Caleb Crawford, sophomore wide receiver.