Seasons shortened: Jimmies adjusting to NAIA's fall sports plan

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University of Jamestown football players, coaches and fans watch the action on the field hosting Dordt University at Taylor Stadium on Sept. 21, 2019. Both the NAIA and GPAC recently announced fall sports guidelines in the wake of COVID-19. Michael Savaloja / The Sun

One of North Dakota's most storied college football rivalries is scheduled to hit a snag this fall for the first time in 74 years.

The 122nd meeting between the University of Jamestown and Valley City State University on the gridiron most likely won't happen until 2021 following the recently announced return to fall sports plan put forth by the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics. The football season has been trimmed by two games and won't begin until Sept. 12, meaning nonconference games for the Jimmies against rival Valley City State (Aug. 29) and Presentation College (Sept. 5) will need to be crossed off the schedule.

News broke last Friday of the NAIA's initial fall sports response in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. The NAIA had originally stated it would roll out plans on July 1.

VCSU leads the all-time series against UJ in football at 63-53-5 dating back to 1909. The only year football didn't happen between the Vikings and Jimmies occurred in 1946.

"I'm glad that we're playing football in the fall," University of Jamestown head football coach Brian Mistro said. "Yes, it does hurt that we're not playing Valley on August 29th, but never say never. Things have been changing day to day since COVID started, so, hopefully, things can change again."


The NAIA's return to sports hinges on a minimum threshold of participating institutions receiving clearance from local authorities to return to sports in order for fall seasons to begin. That threshold is roughly half and would mean approximately 47 of the NAIA's 95 participating institutions in football would need the all-clear for football to commence.

Other fall sports, such as women's volleyball, men's and women's soccer and cross country, would need to meet similar thresholds. The NAIA believes scheduling, travel cost and missed class time for student-athletes would all become issues if a minimum participation threshold isn't met.

Practices for all sports will begin Aug. 15 with competitions beginning Sept. 5, except for football. If all goes to plan, football will begin one week later after four weeks of practice.

UJ's fall football camp was originally scheduled to begin Aug. 6. Only conditioning activities for student-athletes can take place between now and Aug. 15 and any activities deemed practice by the NAIA will be prohibited.

"Up until (Aug. 15) we can work out in the weight room as a team with coach Ryder (Weischedel) our strength coach and that's it," Mistro said. "But we're playing football and that's what everybody wanted."

Along with the maximum number of regular-season contests allowed in football being slashed from 11 to nine, women's volleyball is being cut from 28 dates to 22, soccers are being cut from 18 matches to 14 and cross country from eight meets to seven. The NAIA does intend to host all fall national championship events as currently scheduled.

University of Jamestown women's volleyball became the school's first sports program to compete in an NAIA championship semifinal last fall. The Jimmies won a program-record 33 matches in 2019, including the Great Plains Athletic Conference tournament championship, and are poised to have another solid season in 2020.

The GPAC announced its return to fall sports plan Tuesday, which is basically in lockstep with the NAIA.


"I'm really glad we have a plan and we have it now," said UJ women's volleyball coach Jon Hegerle. "We weren't expecting to maybe have that until July 1st, so it's really nice knowing where we're going and what it's gonna look like. I'm also really glad that the GPAC just stayed in alignment with what the NAIA proposed and nationals are in the plan."

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University of Jamestown women's volleyball player Corina (Ruud) Huff prepares to defend hosting Briar Cliff University at Harold Newman Arena on Sept. 21, 2019. Michael Savaloja / The Sun

The Jimmies have annually opened the women's volleyball season at tournaments that include some of the NAIA's top competition. UJ has already canceled what would've been the team's season-opening trip to a tournament in Los Angeles, California.

Over the past three seasons, the Jimmies have opened play at tournaments in Oregon, Florida and North Carolina. UJ is tentatively scheduled to begin 2020 at the Bellevue Tournament in Nebraska around Sept. 5 with its home opener slated for Sept. 9 hosting Dickinson State.

"I think we probably all anticipated that it was going to be a limited season, we just didn't know how limited," Hegerle said. "For us to be able to start Sept. 5 ... I'm pretty pleased -- and I think our players are pretty pleased -- that we're going to move forward and we've got 22 dates that we can play."

Hegerle said the shortened season might not affect the Jimmies as negatively as it could've in the past. Ranked a program-best fourth in the NAIA top 25 coaches' postseason poll last December, the Jimmies return a host of key athletes.

"We've got a really good group of players and it'll be really competitive in our gym," Hegerle said. "That's really important for us to be able to sharpen each other and really get better as a group.


"We'll figure it out, but all in all I'm excited that we get to play and it'll maybe be a little bit more substantial of a season than I was maybe dreading it would be."

The NAIA currently has no changes planned for winter sports and stated it will announce health and safety protocols, such as testing and screening options, for the fall in the near future.

No major changes are currently slated to impact UJ's fall golf, baseball and softball programs.

Savaloja is the sports lead writer for The Jamestown Sun.
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