Without even taking the field, the IUP Crimson Hawks have lost a football game.
Not on the scoreboard, but on the schedule.
On the heels of the NCAA’s recent decision to reduce the maximum number of regular-season games Division II schools can play this season from 11 to 10, the Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference erased a week of play in its league schedule. The NCAA reduced the games permitted in reaction to the coronavirus pandemic that has erased the spring and most of the summer sports across the country.
“We’re in survival mode for one year,” said Steve Murray, commissioner of the PSAC. “We’re telling coaches, ‘Don’t lose your mind for what we did for one year. These are not lifetime changes.’ We’re trying to save schools as much money as we can by not having them travel as much.”
The PSAC schedule was originally slated to begin Sept. 12, but the Sept. 19 games have been erased and the Sept. 12 games have been moved back a week to fill the gap. IUP was scheduled to visit Shepherd (W.Va.) in a crossover game on Sept. 19, a rematch of their playoff game from November that the Rams won, 31-27, but that game won’t be played.
“We’re playing nine games, which is fine,” said IUP coach Paul Tortorella. “There’s no use getting upset about it. It is what it is.”
Not having to travel overnight to Shepherd saves the team about $10,000, Tortorella said.
The PSAC originally gave each of its 16 football-playing schools a 10-game regular-season schedule, beginning Sept. 12. It allowed teams to find a non-conference opponent for the week before — commonly called “Week Zero” — if they chose to. IUP had not scheduled a game for that week.
Murray said when the NCAA reduced the maximum number of games allowed to 10, he knew the league would either have to erase one of its weeks of play or leave the schedule as-is, which would force its teams to abandon their “Week Zero” non-conference games. He said he didn’t think it would be wise to force teams to cancel their non-conference games because PSAC teams vying for playoff positioning might need a strength-of-schedule boost that could come from playing a good team from another league.
That meant the PSAC needed to erase one of the weeks of East-West crossover games, scheduled for Sept. 12, Sept. 19 and Nov. 14. Murray said the problem with canceling the first or last weekends was that the Sept. 12 games were to be played at East Division sites and the Nov. 14 games were slated at West Division schools, so taking one of those weeks away would leave one division with five home games and the other with four.
That made it an easy call to cut the Sept. 19 games, which had been a mix of East and West home sites. Now four teams from each division have five home PSAC games and four have only four.
IUP is one of the fortunate teams with five home games: Sept. 26 (Mercyhurst), Oct. 10 (Clarion, homecoming), Oct. 17 (Slippery Rock), Nov. 7 (Seton Hill) and Nov. 14 (West Chester). The Crimson Hawks are away on Sept. 19 (Kutztown), Oct. 3 (Gannon), Oct. 24 (California) and Oct. 31 (Edinboro).
“They tried to make it as balanced as they could,” Tortorella said. “I understand why it happened the way it did.”
With the season now beginning Sept. 19, Tortorella said the Crimson Hawks won’t have to report for preseason camp until somewhere around Aug. 17, which saves the program money. The team has to pay to put players up in campus housing until classes begin, and with the new schedule, the players will arrive only a week before the Aug, 24 semester start date.
“That’s more than enough time to get ready for the season,” Tortorella said. “We’ll do whatever we have to do in order to be ready.”
Murray cautioned that because things have changed so quickly during the pandemic, it’s possible the football schedule could be tinkered with some more.
“As of June 18, we are expecting everyone to play and we will be moving forward with the schedule,” he said. “But I don’t know if the same will be said on July 18 or Aug. 18.”
Matthew Burglund, a former longtime Indiana Gazette assistant sports
editor, is a university editor at IUP.