Evangel and Heart Conference to play sports in Fall

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SPRINGFIELD, Mo. — The NAIA announced Friday that it is moving its football championship and playoffs to the Spring because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

As for regular season action, however, it’s leaving each individual conference to decide if it will play football in the Fall or Spring.

The Heart of America Conference, which includes Evangel, said Friday it will play in the Fall.

That means Crusaders football will begin practice on August 15th and kick off the season September 12th.

Men’s soccer, women’s soccer, women’s volleyball, and cross country will open competition September 5th.

The conference made a point to say health and safety is their primary focus.

“While the landscape of the COVID-19 situation remains very fluid, we will continue to adjust our sails and move forward with optimism for the upcoming fall season,” Heart Commissioner Lori Thomas said. “Our task force and the COP believe that it is in the best interest of our 14-members to continue the opening of competition this fall as planned. We will closely monitor the situation as it changes throughout the course of the season and follow all safety measures required by state and local governments for each of our institutions. The health and safety of our student-athletes, coaches, officials, administrators, and spectators still remains at the forefront of our planning.”

Head Football Coach Chuck Hepola said he’s had “a couple” players test positive for COVID-19 already, though they were not on campus and have already recovered.

He has concerns about safety and about how the 2020 season will be set up over Fall and Spring.

“There’s a part of me that could tell you I disagree with the decision they made, and then there’s a part of me that agrees with the decision they made,” Hepola said. “The tough part is the playoff scenario. Let’s say we’re playing in the Fall, have a great season, maybe unfortunately not win the conference but we’re a playoff team. Now you have to wait until the Spring plays itself out. It’s hard for me to say yeah, I agree or disagree because there’s a lot of facts that have still not been revealed to us. But I will say this: I’m at least thrilled to death to know that there are still championships. We’re playing in the Fall.”

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