GRINNELL, Iowa (NBC 26) -- The Midwest Conference, an NCAA Division III conference that includes St. Norbert, Lawrence and Ripon, is suspending all sports competition until January 1, 2021 because of the coronavirus pandemic.
The conference has ten members across three states: Wisconsin, Illinois and Iowa, where it is headquartered.
The athletic directors of the ten colleges and universities in the conference made the decision Monday "in order to protect the health and safety" of student-athletes and other staff.
“We did everything we could over the past couple of months to develop schedules, event management protocols and testing policies so that we could compete this fall," Heather Benning, the conference's executive director, said.
“However, due to the recent sustained surge of cases across the country, and a lack of guaranteed access to timely and reliable testing with the frequency recommended by the NCAA, the Conference does not feel it is in a position to sponsor intercollegiate athletic competition at this time,” Benning added.
The suspension of sports will impact several sports, including football and basketball. This marks the first time since World War II in 1945 that St. Norbert will not have a football season.
St. Norbert hockey could still play in 2020 because both the men's and women's programs compete in the Northern Collegiate Hockey Assocition, not the Midwest Conference.
"Unfortunately, competing intercollegiately in the near future is just not feasible due to the current health crisis," St. Norbert athletics director Tim Bald said in a statement. "We are currently exploring our options to give our student-athletes a meaningful experience in the interim and returning to intercollegiate competition when conditions allow."
Both Lawrence and Ripon echoed those thoughts, saying they will pursue ways to give athletes some sort of substitute to make up for the lost season.
"This was a very difficult decision for everyone involved in the process," Lawrence Director of Athletics Kim Tatro said. "Our student-athletes want to compete and our coaches want to be leading their teams. We certainly understand the desire of our student-athletes to play the games they love so dearly, but the dangers of exposure to COVID-19 are just too great."
"Our athletics staff will shift its focus and energies toward building an experience that will still provide our student-athletes the physical and mental challenges they desire," Ripon's athletic director, Ryan Kane, said. "We are committed to working with our student-athletes to define a 'meaningful experience' and working with each team to execute that experience."
The Midwest Conference said in a statement: "(The conference) remains focused on providing meaningful experiences for all student athletes in 2020-2021. Member institutions are committed to maintaining engaging and significant team experiences for their student-athletes, which could include opportunities for practice, small-group training, skill development and/or strength & conditioning. Engagement in limited non-conference competition remains at the discretion of individual institutions."
The conference said it will continue to monitor current health situations and "take action to resume athletic competition when it is deemed safe to do so."