By Tim Clark, Director Sports Information & Marketing
Texas Lutheran University and Southwestern University, affiliate football members of the American Southwest Conference, today jointly announced that both universities are suspending their intercollegiate football competitive seasons for the fall of 2020 due to ongoing health and safety concerns arising from the COVID-19 pandemic.
The two universities, members of the NCAA Division III, will plan for football intercollegiate contests in the spring semester of the 2020-21 academic year, provided health and safety conditions warrant a return to the sport and a blanket waiver is provided by the NCAA to allow such activity.
“Our priority is the health and well-being of the entire Southwestern University community. After many conversations and careful analysis, we have made the decision to cancel the 2020 football season,” stated Laura E. Skandera Trombley, President of Southwestern University. “Although the ASC has not announced its plans for conference play this fall, I believe it is in the best interest of Pirate student-athletes to opt out of the season.”
Southwestern and TLU have consulted with the ASC on the suspension of the two universities’ football seasons and the potential movement of the Pirates’ and Bulldogs’ football seasons to the spring semester.
“After much consideration, we’ve made the difficult decision to forego our fall football season, and we appreciate the ASC working with us in this process,” said Dr. Debbie Cottrell, President of Texas Lutheran University. “Our current public health environment is simply not conducive to ensuring the safety of our football players or those we would play against. As disappointing as this is, we are eager to work with these student-athletes this fall and look ahead to the possibility of spring play.”
The ASC’s Council of Presidents assured Southwestern and TLU that no penalties or sanctions would be applied to the two universities over this decision. The ASC’s Council of Presidents also announced that the Southwestern and TLU football programs were welcome to continue in the ASC beyond the fall of 2020 and if the ASC institutes a football schedule for the 2020-21 spring semester. The ASC has yet to make a conference-wide decision on its fall sports seasons, including football.
Southwestern and TLU will not be part of any NCAA Football intercollegiate competition in the fall, even if the start of the NCAA and the ASC’s fall football seasons were to be significantly delayed but ultimately played in the fall semester.
“The increasing rates of coronavirus infections in Texas and heightened levels of exposure for playing football just pose too great of a risk to our athletes,” said Glenn Schwab, Southwestern University Director of Intercollegiate Athletics. “Southwestern will work with the ASC and SCAC in exploring options for playing football and all other fall sports in a condensed format this spring.”
Southwestern and TLU join a growing list of NCAA Division I, Division II, and Division III colleges and universities that have suspended all intercollegiate competitions and seasons for fall sports.
“Once the first CDC guidelines were posted, and after hearing the NCAA chief medical officer Dr. Brian Hainline speak, I knew that even conducting football practices would be challenging, much less playing games in the fall,” said Bill Miller, Texas Lutheran University Director of Athletics. “Dr. Hainline explained that safely practicing and playing football in the fall would be very ‘tricky.’ With that said, we do plan to play a football schedule in the spring. Consequently, our football student-athletes, much like the student-athletes in our other fall sports, will have something to prepare for and look forward to. At this time, it is too early to determine what that schedule will look like.”
The NCAA Division III has yet to make a division-wide proclamation on intercollegiate contests and championships in the fall semester, but the NCAA Division III Management Council did announce on Tuesday that schools and conferences “will have flexibility in conducting and/or continuing fall sports practices and competition into the spring.” The approved proposal, effective immediately, waives “current bylaw parameters and allows schools to define the playing season by a certain number of days instead of weeks, and those days do not have to occur in consecutive weeks.” The measure applies to all sports and eliminates the distinction between traditional and nontraditional segments.
Southwestern and TLU hold affiliate membership in the ASC in football only. The bulk of the Pirates’ and Bulldogs’ intercollegiate programs play in the Southern Collegiate Athletic Conference as members of the NCAA Division III.
The SCAC announced on Thursday, July 16 that the league’s intercollegiate seasons in the fall would not take place, stemming from the health and safety concerns of the pandemic. Southwestern and TLU joined its fellow members of the SCAC in agreeing that conference teams in the sports of cross country, soccer and volleyball would not engage in competition (conference or non-conference) during the fall season. This previous SCAC decision included sports such as golf and tennis that utilize the fall for non-traditional activities.
All Southwestern and TLU athletics programs will be encouraged to conduct conditioning, strength training and other practice opportunities, as health and safety conditions allow, during the fall semester in preparation for potential spring competitions.
The Pirates and Bulldogs have played football together in the ASC since the 2017 season. When the SCAC’s football conference dissolved after the 2016 season, Southwestern and TLU joined the ASC as affiliate members.
The SCAC’s two other football members at the time – Austin College and Trinity – departed for the Southern Athletic Association in football only. (The SAA announced on July 16 that it was suspending all conference athletic competition, including football, through the 2020 fall season.)
When TLU re-started its football program in 1998, after a 10-season hiatus, the Bulldogs joined the ASC. TLU played in the ASC from 1998 to 2012 and played in the SCAC from 2013 to 2016. The Bulldogs won SCAC Football Championships in 2013, 2014, and 2015 and played in the 2014 NCAA Division III Football Championship (first round). The Bulldogs won NAIA-II National Championships in 1974 and 1975 and advanced to the NAIA-II National Semifinals in 1976. TLU comes off a 2019 season that produced an 8-2 overall record, an 8-1 mark in the ASC, and national rankings in the 2019 season and 2020 preseason.
Southwestern University announced the reinstatement of its football program in October of 2011 thanks to a generous donation from alumnus and former football star Red McCombs and his wife Charline. The modern football program played its first competition on Sept. 7, 2013, against Texas Lutheran University, after a 62-year absence. The original football program existed from 1908 to 1951. Southwestern University resumed competition as a member of the SCAC, winning the conference’s final championship in 2016, then jumped to the ASC for the 2017 season.