The National Junior College Athletic Association (NJCAA) have recently announced their plans to push the start time for all fall sports, including basketball, back to January. The move was expected and after a vote on Monday evening, the decision was finalized.

“Our greatest focus is and always has been providing the best opportunities for our student-athletes,” NJCAA President & CEO Dr. Christopher Parker said. “Through a unified effort from our Presidential Advisory Council, the Board of Regents, and leadership staff, our most recent plan of action provides a path that keeps our student-athletes competing at the highest level with proper safety measures in place. As we move forward as an association, we will continue to provide opportunities for our student-athletes, coaches, and all those involved with the NJCAA to be safe and successful.”

Basketball season usually tips off in late October with plenty of out-of-conference games and some early-season tournaments. This year, the Howard men’s and women’s basketball programs will both play a shortened schedule (NJCAA is allowing 22 games) and will also have a lot more practice time with their new players.

The decision does create an increase in practice time for the programs in the fall. Both teams have a large group of new, incoming players that could benefit from the extended practice time. They will not have to worry about an upcoming game or the recovery from a previous night’s contest. Instead, each player will be able to focus on building relationships with their teammates on the court and helping turn the overall team into a well-oiled machine.

While the Howard coaches, like many around the country, would prefer a normal season, they also understand that the health of their athletes is paramount and moving the season is the best possible solution for everyone during these uncertain times.

“We got notified last Thursday that that would be the proposal,” Raines said. “When we first got the proposal, I was a little bit surprised, but about two weeks earlier a group of juco coaches had put together a proposal to the NJCAA to move games back to January. And at that time, they seemed very interested. There’s a lot of uncertainty going into the next month or two months and January seems like a time where things might be a whole lot clearer.”

Lady Hawks assistant coach Meesha Wade added, “I wasn’t surprised. I knew that they weren’t going to allow us to play in the fall, so it wasn’t a big shock to me.”

Moving the season back had been rumored for a week or so beforehand and therefore was not a surprising decision.

Repercussions have continued to come down in the aftermath of the decision. Several programs, such as Odessa’s women’s team, have made the choice to furlough their basketball program for an entire year. Other schools, such as Angelina College, have shut down every sport for the next year and will not return to athletic competition until 2021-22.

The Howard Lady Hawks are directly affected by Odessa’s decision because they will now have to find two more out-of-conference games to schedule. Most schedules are decided on and planned out much farther in advance and so Coach Diddle and Coach Wade will have their work cut out for them. Either way, expectations for the team have not changed and the Lady Hawks are expecting a strong season.

“(This doesn’t change expectations) at all,” she said. “This just gives us a lot more time to prep and get ready for the season.”

Raines also seemed pleased with the practice guidelines that were put in place by the NJCAA. He knows that with the talent he has coming in for this next season, more practice time could mean the Hawks will be that much closer to a Region title and possibly the national tournament.

“Coach Cotten and I have worked really hard and we like our squad,” Raines said. “We’ve got some really good players, some high character people so it’s been a good last few months for us.”

Raines is still looking to add two more players to his roster for the next season and the NJCAA’s decision has been helping in that regard. Since several schools around the nation have made the tough decision to cancel their entire seasons, there is now a pool of talented players without a team to choose from and talk to.

These are unique times that we are living in and the sports world has continued to be impacted by the surge of the coronavirus throughout the country. While the season has been pushed back and the games will not begin until the next calendar year, the hope is that by that time the country will be returning to normal and the season will be able to proceed as usual.

“I was talking with another coach in our league and we’re both kind of excited about it,” Raines said. “I think change is good.”

Shawn Moran is the sports writer at the Big Spring Herald. To contact him, e-mail sports@bigspringherald.com or call 432-263-7331.

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