UAF opts-in to upcoming basketball seasons, to be played without fans

Published: Nov. 13, 2020 at 4:32 PM AKST
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The Great Northwest Athletic Conference (GNAC), home to the University of Alaska Fairbanks (UAF) men’s and women’s basketball programs, announced their plans for the upcoming season, which will begin no earlier than January 7.

The Alaska Nanooks are one of four teams to opt-in to the proposed GNAC-only schedule, while the University of Alaska Anchorage (UAA) is one of six teams to opt-out. Other schools that plan to participate in both the men’s and women’s seasons include Northwest Nazarene, Saint Martin’s and Seattle Pacific; while Central Washington, Montana State Billings, Simon Fraser, Western Oregon and Western Washington are among teams that have opted-out for reasons related to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Included in the conference’s plan to return to action safely: games within the GNAC this season will be played without fans, as approved by the conference’s CEO Board. UAF men’s and women’s basketball will play their home games at the Patty Center Arena on campus without spectators.

While the Nanooks elected to opt-in, this does not assure they will play the season, but leaves the door open to the possibility of competing when deemed it is safe to do so.

“Opting-in does not obligate UAF to compete, but it preserves our right to do so when the time comes and we feel it can be done safely," said UAF Chancellor Dan White in a press release. “We opted-in just to allow us that opportunity to make a decision closer to the date of play. That is something we have communicated to coaches and athletes, that safety is the most important thing -- that we have a safe environment for our athletes. Safety includes physical and mental well-being and having the opportunity if we consider it safe to play, and that is why we left the door open today.” he added in a UAF Press Conference held Friday.

Chancellor White went on to explain that the factors involved with UAF deciding to later opt-out would include the COVID-19 situation on the university’s campus and in the Fairbanks community.

“That is one of the reasons that we saw a different response from UAF and UAA -- we are in different places and have different environments.” said White.

The modified conference-only schedules are expected to be released in the next few weeks, as they are being revised to minimize travel. Rather than playing games on Thursday and Saturday against different opponents as in years past, teams will play on Friday and Saturday against the same opponent at the same location. The men’s and women’s basketball schedules will mirror one another, with the two schools competing against each other on the same dates at opposite locations.

“The GNAC’s reformatted schedule has been designed to reduce travel, promote health and safety, and foster conditions that enable student-athletes to return to intercollegiate competition safely,” said GNAC commissioner Dave Haglund in the press release. The release went on to state, “teams will comply with NCAA, state and local health protocols, including weekly COVID testing, mask-wearing by participants not actively on the court, and isolation and quarantine in the event of positive tests or exposure.”

For men’s and women’s basketball players at UAF, they will not lose a year of eligibility if they compete in the upcoming condensed season.

“Since we are multidivisional athletic program [Division I and DII], the NCAA’s Board of Governors voted to allow all athletes who are competing in this abbreviated season to maintain eligibility. So they continue to have the eligibility, even at the end of the season,” said Keith Champagne, UAF Vice Chancellor of Student Affairs and Athletics.

Seniors in the basketball programs will be able to return to UAF to compete next season, while incoming freshmen will get another year of experience under their belt.

Additionally, UAA announced Friday that they will not be competing in any indoor winter sports in 2020-21, including basketball, hockey, gymnastics and men’s and women’s indoor track. Nanook hockey was scheduled to open their season against the Seawolves in Fairbanks December 4, but the series, along with all games involving UAA, have been canceled. The UAA hockey program was subject to budget cuts, where it was proposed and approved to eliminate the team after the 2020-21 season. If all holds true, the book on the historic Governor’s Cup series between UAF and UAA closed last season with the Nanooks capturing their 11th straight Cup.

The Western Collegiate Hockey Association gave their teams, including UAF, a November 17 deadline to opt-in to the season. Chancellor White says it is their “intent” to opt-in to the 2020-21 hockey season.

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