The 2019 NCAA Championship trophy sits at mid-court in Evansville after the Bearcats won the title game. Northwest lost its immediate opportunity to defend that title when the 2020 tournament was canceled.

MARYVILLE, Mo. — When the COVID-19 pandemic first began, it was the winter sports which immediately felt the sting.

For Northwest Missouri State, that included the defending national champions in men’s basketball as well as the indoor track and field team. Those sports are now the next up after fall sports were pushed to 2021.

After what those athletes had to deal with last season, saving their season this year is of paramount importance to the MIAA.

“A lot of (conferences) including the Pac-12 announced that they are also delaying their winter sports until after January 1,” MIAA commissioner Mike Racy said. “Our presidents and athletic directors, they talked about that and they unanimously agreed that it is too early to do that. It doesn’t make any sense. Too many things could change between now and October.”

On Thursday, the conference announced that it would be making a decision on winter sports by Oct. 1.

“It just made sense for our presidents to say, ‘Hey look, we aren’t going to make a decision on our winter sports. We want to do everything we can, we want to to fight as long as we can to give our basketball student-athletes and our track student-athletes and our wrestlers – to give them a full season if possible.’”

It makes sense that Northwest President John Jasinski was among those pushing for that decision to be delayed. His university would have had a great chance to have another banner hanging if the NCAA Tournament wouldn’t have been canceled.

“Really (it was) led by President Jasinski who offered that a decision perhaps by October 1 would be our deadline,” Racy said. “It gives us a few weeks here to monitor and by at least October 1, we will make some decision about the winter sports schedule. For now, we certainly have our fingers crossed and we are hoping that can move forward as scheduled.”

The winter athletes also did not have their eligibility restored which meant two-time national champions Ryan Welty, Kirk Finley and Tyler Dougherty never got the chance to defend their final national championship.

As far down the road as it may seem, it means the backcourt of Trevor Hudgins and Diego Bernard will not have the chance to be four-time champions. As unlikely as it sounds, they would have been halfway there after starting together as freshmen and sophomores.

With the fall season postponement, Racy emphasized how much thought and how many people were consulted beforehand before a decision was made. A similar process will surely occur with the winter season.

“We’ve had a medical task force that has been looking at this,” Racy said. “In the last seven days, we’ve had three conference calls with our athletic directors and then yesterday our presidents got on the phone and just found it too impossible with all of the new requirements from the NCAA to try and do games and competition this fall. They made that decision during their meeting (Thursday) and it was a unanimous vote by our presidents.”

Racy also made it clear that he doesn’t want the rescheduling of any fall events to hamper the winter or spring sports either.

“We don’t know what that means yet,” Racy said. “There may be a chance to do some football games or volleyball games or soccer matches in the spring. It will be very limited. We wouldn’t want to do that in a way that is disruptive to our winter and spring student-athletes. They had their seasons disrupted last year and we’d hate to do that again.”

He emphasized that while it was time for the fall season decision to be made last week and it was pushed back several times beforehand, they hope for a more concrete plan by Oct. 1 for the winter sports and hope to avoid the limbo that the fall teams dealt with.

“The presidents as they worked through that they unanimously agreed that it was time,” Racy said. “It was time to make a decision, time to let our student-athletes and coaches have some certainty of what this fall is going to look like. You want to remain hopeful, you want to remain positive that things are going to improve and you are going to be able to do what you want to do. But yesterday our presidents concluded, and it was the right decision, that our student-athletes deserve to have an environment for their competitive experience that provides the greatest degree of safety that we can and with the current conditions that exist, we just aren’t able to do that to those MIAA standards.”

Racy reiterates that the goal is to play and he is excited to see the MIAA teams back in action.

“We want to do everything we can to help our student athletes play,” Racy said.