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Gopher Sports: More than just football will be missing this fall

Minnesota has several other fall sports that will take a big hit

As we all know by now the Big Ten has postponed all fall sports to a hopeful eventual spring season. As we have written about endlessly the last few days, football is the obvious big sport that has all of the financial ramifications for the rest of the athletic department, and it obviously is garnering the most attention. But of course Minnesota has more than just football as a fall sport. Here is a look at what else will be getting postponed and what the hope is for an eventual season.

Volleyball:

The Minnesota Golden Gophers volleyball team had just officially begun practice for the 2020 season when they found out it would be coming to a screeching halt. Minnesota was trying to build off of a Final Four season from a year ago with the top recruiting class in the nation looking to make impacts into the lineup as true freshmen. Now, they will wait and see when they may get to take the court for their initial season. Gopher volleyball coach Hugh McCutcheon released the following statement on Tuesday:

He had even more to say talking to the Star Tribune’s Rachel Blount:

McCutcheon believes a spring schedule would have “a pretty similar rhythm.’’ He envisions playing nonconference matches against regional opponents, perhaps starting in January, and he speculated the NCAA tournament could be held in May, maybe alongside the men’s NCAA championship that is always held in the spring. In the meantime, he and his team will have to be patient.

“It’s good to have the decision made, and we can move forward,’’ McCutcheon said. “And the thing driving it is the health and safety, as it should.

“I’m sure [the players] are disappointed. It’s clear they have the capacity to play some pretty great volleyball. We’ll just keep our fingers and toes crossed that we get a crack at it in the spring, and go from there.’’

If the Gophers are limited to just Big Ten play in the spring, it wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world as the Big Ten is annually the top conference in the nation for volleyball. The Gophers would need to worry about sharing the Pav with several other teams at that time including both gymnastics teams and wrestling, but at least with the new Land O’Lakes center and the shifting of resources to the existing Bierman facility all of the various teams should have available practice space if volleyball would need to play a larger role at the Pav in early 2021.

Women’s Soccer:

The Gopher women’s soccer team was headed into a rebuilding year trying to improve on a disappointing 2019 campaign. Gopher head coach Stefanie Golan released this statement:

She also told more to Blount in the Star Tribune:

Women’s soccer coach Stefanie Golan said the news was “really, really difficult,’’ but she and her players were relieved to hear their schedule was delayed rather than canceled. Like McCutcheon, she said her team was committed to improving during the offseason, despite the pandemic. Players returned to campus in excellent physical condition and will seek to maintain that as they target spring competition.

“We’ve always known this was a possibility,’’ said Golan, whose team was 3-12-4 last year. “[The postponement] gives us hope that we can come out on the other side of this and still get an opportunity to compete in the spring.

“We all understand this virus is no joke. There’s a lot of information we’re still gathering and still learning. If it’s going to potentially be safer for us to tackle this in the spring, then let’s do it.’’

The biggest issue for the Gopher soccer team will be that obviously outdoor soccer in the middle of winter/early spring is not really possible in Minnesota. Their usual field Elizabeth Lyle Robbie Stadium on the St. Paul campus is not winterized and has no heating elements for the turf. As Golan told the Star Tribune, Minnesota would need to find a bubble or indoor facility to practice/play games at or would be forced to do what the baseball and softball teams have done which is travel for the majority of the beginning of the season to warmer climates. With the current budgetary situation, that’s probably unlikely. While Minnesota has a bubbled rec spoets facility, they do not have one that the varsity teams could use. Several Minnesota high schools and community centers do have full sized bubbled fields though so that may be a distinct possibility for the Gophers.

Cross Country:

This is the Minnesota team that potentially could see the biggest impact. Cross country athletes obviously need a safe place to run—so that basically rules out Minnesota through April or so. Additionally there is a decent sized crossover between members of the cross-country teams and the indoor and outdoor track and field teams. In theory both of those seasons should be running at the same time as a potential cross country season. Gopher men’s and women’s cross country coaches Steve Plasencia and Sarah Hopkins had the following statements Tuesday:

What that may mean for a cross country season is still up in the air. Minnesota previously canceled its huge Roy Griak Meet that normally would take place in September until the fall of 2021, so one would imagine if any meet are held they would be smaller affairs. Questions abound all over.

As of now those are the only other Minnesota sports directly affected by the Big Ten’s postponement. However, it’s obvious more will soon be effected. Both men’s and women’s hockey teams should be beginning practice in late-September/early October. That most definitely is uncertain. The Men’s golf team held a fall tournament last September in Minnesota as well—one would think that is probably off, though we have obviously seen golf tournaments continue—just not collegiately sponsored. The Pac-12 when it decided to postpone fall sports did so for all sports through the end of 2020. That obviously would nearly eliminate the non-conference schedules for both men’s and women’s basketball as well as other teams that perform over a split semester schedule such as swimming and diving.

As we said, lots of questions remain, and not a lot of answers have been given. Hopefully over the next few weeks the Big Ten will get together whomever they need to to figure out how spring seasons can work and how they will try and pull them off. It won’t be easy, but it’s something that really needs to be done if possible due to health related concerns.