The COVID-19 pandemic has forced colleges and their athletic programs to shut down all across the country. Winter sports championships were canceled, and some conferences chose to cancel all spring sports as well.
While other conferences have decided to suspend seasons, the resumption of spring sports at the college level appears unlikely at this point. The Centers for Disease Control has recommended that events with 50 or more people not be held for eight weeks. State and local governments have urged or enforced the shut down of non-essential businesses. President Donald Trump also suggested not holding gatherings of more than 10 people.
All of this is to contain the spread of the potentially deadly COVID-19, a virus that even the nation’s foremost health experts know very little about.
While the elderly and immunocompromised run the greatest risk of being infected and killed by COVID-19, nobody is immune to it. Some people exhibit mild symptoms, and some show none at all. However, that does not mean they are not carriers of the virus, and they can still spread it to others.
Rudy Gobert of the Utah Jazz said he felt well enough to play in the team’s game on March 11, which was postponed after his test was confirmed positive. The NBA immediately suspended its season, and the other four active major professional leagues followed suit the next day.
A few hours before Gobert’s positive test was made public, NCAA President Mark Emmert announced that March Madness would be held without fans, and began seeking a new venue for the Final Four. By the following day, as the professional leagues suspended their seasons, Emmert decided to cancel the NCAA Tournament altogether.
At that point, schools and conferences began suspending and canceling spring seasons as well.
“We had kind of just got back from spring break, and I don’t think we quite understood the gravity of the situation yet,” Mansfield University Baseball Coach Andrew Chalot said. “You could tell that week when they canceled the NCAA Tournament, all signs were pointing toward the season being canceled.”
The signs indeed pointed in that direction, as the Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference notified its member schools on Friday, March 13 that spring sports had been suspended.
“Unfortunately, we weren’t given a whole lot of heads up. Basically, we got a note from our conference office,” said Chalot.
Upon receiving the news, Chalot was dealt the difficult task of letting his players know their season was put on hold, and more than likely over.
But many of them already knew.
“It was on social media already. We had contacted our guys about having a team meeting, but everybody’s on Twitter and Facebook now,” he said. “News had already spread before I even got to tell the team.”
“They were very emotional,” he said. “We kind of just got everybody together to let the seniors talk to the team one last time, because … the likelihood of us resuming any type of practice was probably pretty unlikely.”
Chalot said the news was especially hard for his senior players to digest.
“It was very disappointing. We got robbed of 75 percent of our season,” he said. “Basically this was their last shot to go through the PSAC, which is a very good baseball conference. We were projected to finish at the bottom, and I think we had some guys that were motivated to prove some people wrong.”
Many teams at least got to start their seasons, but others did not. The Elmira College softball team was one of them.
“Our season has the longest offseason … They had been working and working and working,” Coach Randie Tolgarski said. “Opening day was three days away, so it was one of those things where all the anticipation and buildup for the start of the season just came to a shocking halt.”
Prior to the cancelation of the season, Tolgarski spoke to his team to let them know all of the possible scenarios.
“In the week leading up to it, it was like ‘hopefully we can just get through it.’ As it got closer and closer, it just became inevitable,” he said.
Knowing it might be coming did not make the news any easier to take.
“They were devastated. A big look of feeling and disbelief. It’s something that you never think would ever happen, and yet it did,” Tolgarski said. “Our team did a great job being there for each other. Myself and my staff tried to be there for all the girls, but it’s still an utter shock and disbelief. It’s a big hurtful feeling too.”
Just as it did for the seniors on the Mansfield baseball team, the news hit especially hard for Elmira’s seniors.
“To have their careers end without even playing a game was a double up, because it was not just the end of their season but the end of their playing career,” Tolgarski, who also coaches the Elmira boys basketball team, said.
“A few weeks before that, I had just finished the basketball season with my guys. We had four seniors that finished their basketball playing careers on the court at least. These girls didn’t finish their career on the field. It was in their dorm room.”
While Division III athletes have five years to compete in four years of a sport, it would be hard for the seniors to return. Division III does not provide athletic scholarships, meaning athletes are on the hook for another year of tuition.
“All three seniors are scheduled to graduate this spring and start jobs,” Tolgarski said. “I think it would be hard for them to change course so drastically. I think a lot of Division III athletes will be in the same boat.”
“I just think there’s so much more that goes into it at that level than it does at Division I or DIvision II” he added.
Even at the Division II level, where players have been granted an extra year of eligibility, the decision to return might not have much benefit.
“In our scenario — we had eight seniors — seven of them are graduating, so a lot of them will already have had job interviews lined up … There wasn’t really much of an incentive for these guys to use their extra year,” Chalot said of the potential for players to return.
Tolgarski said the lost season has given his underclassmen time to reflect.
“I think (there’s) motivation, but it’s also a sense of being grateful to have another season next year.” he said. “To not take anything for granted, I think is a great thing to remind them all of. We kind of assume that there’s gonna be a next season … and there wasn’t a season this year. There’s an eagerness to get the season back next year, but also a thankfulness that there is going to be a season.”