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PSU Athletics prepares to host first home game with COVID safety measures

After the Mid-America Intercollegiate Athletics Association (MIAA) suspended all official conference athletics until January 2021, Pittsburg State University, in conjunction with other Division-II schools, will begin an independent football season Oct. 31 

The 2020 football season will commence on Oct. 31 with a game at home vs Nebraska-Kearney at 1 p.m. at Carnie Smith Stadium. The subsequent games will be Nov. 7 at Missouri Western, Nov. 14 at Stephen F. Austin in Nacogdoches, Texas, another home game vs Western Colorado University, and the final game at West Texas A&M in Canyon, Texas. 

The season, like all operations at Pittsburg State during the fall 2020 semester will be in accordance with health and safety regulations as set by the university, the county and the state. However, according to PSU President Steve Scott, these changes have not changed the focus of athletics. 

“It looked very early on that we wanted to play,” Scott said. “We said, ‘How can we do this? How can we do this safely? How can we make this work?’ We looked around at the fact that high schools were playing, that the Chiefs were going to play… It felt a little odd that a Division-II school couldn’t play in some way… From my seat, it’s important to the community. This community is engaged with Pittsburg State for a number of reasons, but one of the most important reasons is sports… It’s the connection that our alumni have to us…” 

Pittsburg State has formed an “alliance” with two other schools in the MIAA Conference to aid in organizing the modified football season and filled out the remaining games with schools in other conferences. 

“When the decision was made to delay MIAA sports until January 1, the coaches weighed in and said they weren’t really interested in playing a spring schedule and having a championship, and that really cleared the runway for each school to make a decision on its own,” said Jim Johnson, athletic director for Pittsburg State. “We went to work, and we said all along that we were going to continue to evaluate this. We never once said, ‘Okay, we’re done. We’re not going to consider it.’ Everyday there was a different set of circumstances… We always said, ‘If there’s a path, we’re going to try and figure out what that is.” 

PSU Athletics has strict testing protocols for athletes to ensure infection mitigation of COVID-19 including testing athletes weekly, although Johnson and Scott both said that student athletes have had a low infection rate. At both home games, health and safety measures similar to other campus activities will be in place including mask wearing, social distance, and hand sanitization, but according to Scott, failure to comply with health and safety measures will not result in official consequences such as removal from Carnie Smith Stadium by security. 

“We have had an amazing level of compliance on this campus..,” Scott said. “Our students, faculty, and staff have been tremendous. That’s why the infection rate for students and staff has been so low. What we want to see happen is to see people extend that compliance… The messaging will be around mask wearing and maintaining distance and that’s what we’re going to expect. Are we going to remove people that don’t comply? That’s not going to happen. We have the expectation that people are going to follow these guidelines. That’s what we want to see because we want them to stay… There is a limit to what we’re going to do to try and enforce that. I think that’s just common sense…” 

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