by, Pete Janny & Colleen McNamara, Sports Editor & Staff Writer
At most schools around the country, including Manhattan College, fall sports will be put on the backburner as the threat of the coronavirus continues. The current realities of our country’s ongoing battle with COVID-19 dictated the terms of the decision by the MAAC and most other conferences around the country to cancel fall sports.
After holding out hope for a while, the MAAC begrudgingly chose to put the notion of playing this fall to rest following a meeting between the Council of Presidents early in the day on July 27. The official ruling was the culmination of a months long process of brainstorming a safe and practical way to go forth with athletic competition this fall. In the end, there was just no clear way forward to minimize the impact of the coronavirus enough to make competition worth it in the end.
“Health and safety protocols have been of the utmost priority the last several months, but unfortunately, there are too many factors that prohibit the MAAC and its institutions from safely delivering a competitive atmosphere that these individuals deserve,” said MAAC Commissioner Rich Ensor, according to the GoJaspers website.
“It is difficult to put into words how I feel for all of the student-athletes, coaches, and administrators who put in so much work on a daily basis.”
The announcement to cancel marked another grim moment for MAAC sports more than four months after the threat of the coronavirus terminated the 2020 MAAC Hercules Basketball Tournament in its third day of competition. Lost in the whirlwind of emotions felt during those dismal days in mid-March were bigger thoughts about how the situation would look in a few months’ time when fall sports athletes would be scheduled to compete.
There were few concrete long-term answers then, and there are still few now. As a result, fall athletes will have to overcome the same setbacks experienced by spring athletes just a few months earlier.
Moving forward, a top priority at Manhattan is ensuring that all students, including the large sector of student-athletes on campus, can best handle the mental health challenges caused by COVID-19.
“The mental health of our students and our society, let, alone our student athletes, is a very important topic that I feel needs to be addressed,” Manhattan Athletic Director Marianne Reilly said. “No one wants to cancel or postpone anything because these are peoples’ careers. Being an athlete totally enhances the overall experience in your college career.”
The prospect of having no fall sports started to look more real by late July after reports surfaced of outbreaks among student-athletes on campuses across the country during summer workouts. The bulk of athletes infected were football players, who were back on their respective campuses early to begin their regular workouts ahead of the season. Consequently, most of the public concern about college athletics was consumed by the mysterious fate of the college football season, given its money-making factor for many schools and its popularity among sports fans.
Since Manhattan does not field a football team, the school and the rest of the MAAC conference at large were mostly unaffected by the buzz in the media regarding the next steps for college football and its financial implications.
“I think there was a lot of pressure on the football schools to try to make this work,” Manhattan Athletic Director Marianne Reilly told The Quadrangle. “The culture of
those schools need football and in a local college town the hotels and local businesses could suffer.”
Figuring out a plan to play fall sports during the spring season is a main priority for the MAAC and other conferences; an announcement will come at “a later date” upon further discussions by the Board of Presidents. Assuming that the country has more control over COVID-19 by the spring, one of the ideas reportedly being considered is some kind of “bubble” format that would allow Division I college sports teams to live, eat, train, and most crucially, compete in the same enclosed location.
There have yet to be formal conversations about the bubble idea among the NCAA and other conferences, but it may ultimately provide the best approach to keeping student-athletes and coaches safe when competing. Regardless of the format, the most important thing is bringing back college sports without jeopardizing the health and well-being of all involved.
“There is hope that we will have something in the spring, whether that is NCAA or conference, we’re going to try to do that,” Reilly said.
In the case of fall sports, there could be a lot of value in taking the fall to train together and strengthen bonds as teammates with the end prize being a spring season. Just imagine the benefits of enhanced skill development and crisper team chemistry that could come from all this.
“If I have to say there is a silver lining it’s that coaches can do more skill development,” Reilly said. “Now they are actually going to be able to really build and develop that team chemistry and skill development. We want to engage them where they still feel that they are working something because they still are. It may not be the championship right now, but it could be in the spring.”
As a result of the cancellation, the teams at Manhattan that will be left without competitive seasons this fall are men’s and women’s soccer, volleyball, women’s rowing, and men’s and women’s cross country.
Head men’s soccer coach Jorden Scott is staying optimistic despite having to wait longer than ever before to see his team back in action again. Scott has developed a patient and mindful outlook to prepare for the task of meshing a team with 14 new players. The importance of team chemistry and skill development resonates deeply with him nowadays.
“The biggest challenge this fall is going to be blending the team,” Scott told the Quadrangle. “When you lose a lot of those guys, it takes time. We have to build the time back up again.”
Traditionally, most college sports teams that compete in the fall are given a brief transition period to get ready for the season after the long summer layoff. Head women’s soccer coach Brendan Lawler knows how tough that quick transition could be for his players, especially the freshman class. With more time to prepare this fall, he is looking forward to the opportunity to let his freshmen players grow into their roles on the team.
“My message to the team, starting with the freshmen, is that it’s tough in the fall to get adjusted to college soccer essentially with a two week pre-season,” Lawler told the Quadrangle. “Now we get to build up to it and I’m excited about that as a teacher and educator you can take your time to get everybody on the same page to get them used to college soccer and college in general.”
With the fate of fall sports determined, rumors are starting to swirl about the plans for college basketball. The season’s scheduled start date of Nov. 10 is looking unlikely and as a result later dates are being discussed by NCAA officials, according to CBS Sports. A vote on the start date for college basketball is expected to happen on Sept. 16 on behalf of the D-1 Council. The talk of a bubble format has mostly been linked to college basketball although it is nothing more than speculation at this stage. The bottom line is the NCAA will have to get creative to avoid the financial nightmare of having to cancel March Madness for the second year in a row.