Athletic Director "Without A Doubt" Open To Spring Football

St. Thomas athletic director Phil Esten believes “it’s becoming more and more difficult to envision a fall season”

The DA Show
July 21, 2020 - 9:34 am

College football is in trouble. In fact, many analysts believe the path to a fall season is borderline nonexistent.

Which is why a lot of programs are open to a spring season.

“Without a doubt,” St. Thomas athletic director Phi Esten said on The DA Show. “For me, I want to make sure that our student-athletes have an opportunity to compete this year. [The priority], first and foremost, is their health and welfare. [We] would like to do it in the fall, but if for some reason we can’t do it in the fall, we’d certainly look to do that in the spring if we can.”

St. Thomas, which is 126-21 in its last eight seasons, is entering its final year in the Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (MIAC). The St. Paul, Minnesota, school will move from Division III to Division I beginning in the 2021-22 season and will compete in the Pioneer League.

“We’ve been in this conference, the MIAC, for 100 years,” Esten said. “Despite the fact that the circumstances are what they are, we’d really like to celebrate that century-long history with our colleagues in the conference, and we’d like to do it on the playing field. And so, if there’s a way for us to compete in the spring, we certainly would take advantage of that.”

As for 2020, all MIAC schools are monitoring COVID-19 protocols and safety measures both locally and nationally.

“[We’re] making sure that we bring our student-athletes back in a safe way,” Esten said. “That’s, of course, our very first priority: the health and welfare of our student-athletes. I can tell you with the NCAA’s guidelines around testing that were released late last week, I think it’s going to be difficult for a lot of programs – particularly at the Division III level, maybe Division II level – to be able to afford to do that.”

According to the NCAA, testing must occur within 72 hours of competition for high-contact sports.

“Testing certainly has some scarcity to it, and there’s a cost to testing,” Esten said. “With the frequency and pace at which the NCAA has suggested we do test our student-athletes – and again, it’s all for their health and welfare – it’s going to be difficult for a lot of schools to afford that. And so, I think we’re getting close to a place where it’s going to become really, really difficult for schools to compete in the fall.”

Playing football in the spring would present some challenges, but many programs and conferences would like to work together to overcome them.

“If we take fall off, we really need to think about injury prevention as we roll into the spring next year,” Esten said. “Even if we can move our season from the fall to the spring, we’ve got to do everything we can to protect our student-athletes from an injury perspective. It’s important to me that we find a way – even if it’s pods or small groups or whatever – to continue to work out in the fall despite whether we have a season or not. But I think it’s becoming more and more difficult to envision a fall season, particularly at the Division III level.”