Updated 5:40 p.m.: The Great Northwest Athletic Conference has suspended all athletics competitions through Nov. 30, a decision that affects the University of Alaska Fairbanks' teams in men’s and women’s basketball, men’s and women’s cross-country running, and volleyball.
The conference's governing board made the decision Friday, citing concern about the COVID-19 pandemic.
The decision bars "contests of any kind against outside competition," according to the board's announcement. Member universities will have autonomy regarding organized practice activities.
"We understand that many student-athletes will be disappointed and saddened by this news, particularly our seniors, and we have profound empathy for everyone affected by this decision, including non-conference opponents," conference Commissioner Dave Haglund said in an announcement about the decision. "We can only ask for their thoughtful understanding during these challenging and unprecedented times.”
Keith Champagne, UAF's vice chancellor for student affairs and athletics, supported the decision in a message to UAF staff, student-athletes and supporters.
"This prudent decision prioritizes the health, safety and well-being of our Alaska Nanooks student-athletes and staff, and was not made lightly,” he wrote. “I also want to make it clear that this is a suspension of fall competition, not a cancellation. The possibility of shifting fall season competition to the spring is still on the table.”
The conference board will make a decision by Oct. 15 regarding the status of competition after Nov. 30.
At UAF, the GNAC decision affects about 65 student-athletes, UAF spokeswoman Marmian Grimes said.
UAF student-athletes will be allowed to keep their scholarships and will begin classes in the fall, according to a statement from the university. Student-athletes will still be expected to meet the NCAA academic eligibility requirements, according to the conference.
“We will take the upcoming weeks to evaluate and adjust our fall schedules for the five affected sports while continuing to keep our student-athletes, their families, coaches and supporters as up to date as possible on any new information,” Champagne said.
Decisions about whether to hold team practices are being left to each university.
Conferences governing three other UAF fall season sports — men's hockey, swimming and rifle — have not yet made a decision about fall competitions, Grimes said, adding that UAF is expecting that decisions will be made soon.
The Great Northwest Athletic Conference also includes University of Alaska Anchorage, Central Washington University, Concordia University, Montana State University Billings, Northwest Nazarene University, Saint Martin’s University, Seattle Pacific University, Simon Fraser University, Western Oregon University and Western Washington University.
Contact Editor Rod Boyce at 459-7585. Follow him on Twitter: @FDNMeditor.