Westminster College weighs options after fall championships are canceled

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) A sign reads "Keep Playing" at Westminster College's soccer field in Salt Lake City on Monday, March 30, 2020. The Griffins and their Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference are weighing whether to proceed with a season after NCAA Division II voted to cancel all fall sports championships for 2020.

Shay Wyatt held out optimism that the NCAA would contest fall championships at the Division II level, but ultimately he knew what was coming.

Wyatt, the athletic director at D-II Westminster College, watched Wednesday afternoon as the NCAA’s Division II Presidents Council canceled the classification’s seven fall championships. That decision came four hours after the NCAA Board of Governors directed each division to make its own decision on fall championships.

Comprising 15 presidents and chancellors of DII institutions, the Presidents Council cited “operational, logistical and financial challenges presented by the COVID-19 pandemic.”

“It is very unfortunate for the athletes, but not surprising given the concerns and complexities everyone is dealing with,” Wyatt told The Salt Lake Tribune late Wednesday afternoon. “I can certainly understand the decision based on health, safety and from a financial standpoint.”

As a member of the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference (RMAC), Westminster sponsors five fall sports, men’s and women’s soccer, men’s and women’s cross country, and women’s volleyball. While the RMAC sponsors football, the Griffins do not.

Late Thursday afternoon, the RMAC canceled all fall championships, citing the Division II Presidents Council decision. The RMAC on July 27 announced it was delaying the start of fall sports to Sept. 18, with practices allowed to begin on Aug. 24.

As of Thursday afternoon, 12 of DII’s 23 conferences had already canceled fall sports entirely.

“My fellow administrators, the presidents are all heavily involved in that, and yes, we are still considering the feasibility of fall sports in a conference-only format,” Wyatt said before the RMAC decision. “We do still have meetings this week and just like every other conference and organization, we’re continually reviewing health and safety guidelines.

“The focus now has to turn to how do we provide a positive student-athlete experience. Are we able to do that in a conference-only format? We are working through those things now.”

DII and non-scholarship DIII largely come off as the forgotten victims in what has been a rough few months for college athletics in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic.

In large part due to the cancellation of the NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Tournament, the college sports governing body had far less revenue to give to its members than originally projected. At the Division I level, a projection of $600 million slated to go out in April turned into $225 million slated to go out in June.

The trickle down was felt at the lower divisions. DII as a whole annually receives 4.37% of NCAA revenue. With that, the current projection for DII is $13.9 million, which would represent a $30 million decrease from last year. DIII gets 3.18% of revenue, which equates to $10.7 million, a $22 million decrease.

To that end, Wyatt has not had to consider eliminating sports, which is a positive in the middle of trying times.

“You see the cost-saving measures and the ripple effect it has, not only on Division II, but across the entire NCAA membership,” Wyatt said. “The revenue distribution that comes to our athletic department is certainly affected, but in terms of cuts and things of that nature, no, I am happy to say we have not had to do any of that.”