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WHAT’S NEXT AS LOCAL COLLEGES START TO BRING BACK ATHLETES?

(Marist College women’s soccer midfielder Kristen Prevosto)

Coronavirus Has Created A Sea Change On Campuses

By Jack Weinberger
Special to HVSR

Spring break was approaching for many college students in March when they were suddenly struck with the news that this year’s break would be like none other.

Florida, Mexico, the Caribbean … these were just some of the destinations where students were ready to pack the beaches and enjoy what is often considered to be the best week of the year.

However, the COVID-19 pandemic soon arrived into the United States, causing those beach trips to be traded in for days on the couch while watching TV. Some students were affected by personal tragedy due to the virus, which made this tough time all the bit harder to swallow. Finishing school online was far from ideal for the vast majority of students, but at least the NCAA basketball tournament would help to pass the time in isolation. Soon after, baseball was going to start, at both the college and professional levels.

So we thought.

COVID-19 put a dagger on the sports world like nothing we’ve ever seen before, canceling the end of the winter college sports season and all of spring sports. And now, months later, coaches and administrators at Marist College, Vassar and SUNY New Paltz are in the process of bringing their athletes back to campus to begin workouts – some more sooner than later – with a giant question mark of what happens next?

“At this time, Division I is the only NCAA Division that has been allowed to resume activities for June,” said the Assistant Director of Athletics for Communications at Vassar College, Amie Canfield, whose school, along with SUNY New Paltz, is Division III. “Traditionally at the Division III level, student-athletes do not return to campus until mid-August.”

While there are a number of colleges at the Division I level who have had athletes return to campus, that is not yet the case for Marist.

“We are under restrictions,” said Marist Head Football Coach Jim Parady. “With the players being allowed to go back, it is still with a stipulation of local governments.”

New York State, specifically the New York City metropolitan area, was hit the hardest by COVID-19, meaning that Marist, Vassar, and SUNY New Paltz may still be delayed in having their Fall programs start on time.

 

All three seem to be in the same boat, with that “boat” being uncertainty. However, the coaches and athletic directors are expressing optimism.

“We are doing a lot of work on campus planning for a safe return in the fall, but there is a lot to be determined still,” said Vassar cross country coach James McCowan.

“For me personally, I’m thinking in a very positive way,” Parady said. “We are planning for it to happen, as a coaching staff and as a team. We are preparing on getting started by our first practice on August 12th.”

Right about now is when summer begins for most people, but the summertime is when Division I athletes begin training for their upcoming seasons. Dutchess County is in the second phase of a four-phase plan to reopen for business, but a spokesperson for County Executive Marc Molinaro said the ultimate decision lies with New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

Nonetheless, it is crucial at a time like this for coaches to make sure their athletes don’t fall too far behind.

“Kids are doing the best they can, but many of them in New York, New Jersey and I believe Connecticut as well, still don’t really have public gyms available for use, and as you know our facilities are not open yet either,” said Marist Athletic Director Tim Murray.  “Our coaches are in contact with their athletes constantly.”

This pandemic is uncharted waters for a lot of coaches, athletes, athletic directors, and conferences as a whole. We “fanatics” feel like we need sports back, fans or not, but the fact of the matter is, how safe will it be to resume on time?

“Overwhelmingly, athletes are excited about getting back and getting back to normal,” said Murray. “From what I’ve heard, very little concern in terms of the virus. I think there’s confidence that we’ll do things with their health and safety as priority.”

     

Safety and comfort levels amongst the athletes need to be the number one factor in whether or not fall sports begin on time. Restrictions are yet to be determined amongst any one of the three schools but it will certainly take a little while to get back to what we know as being normal. Things are still just way too up in the air right now to know how it is all going to play out in a couple months’ time.

“Even if athletes are back in August, games probably will not be played until September or October,” said Stuart Robinson, the Athletic Director at SUNY New Paltz. “What we’ve all learned from this is that it’s constantly changing and evolving, so what’s said right now may not be the case in three weeks’ time. The uncertainty here is trying to plan on all scenarios.”

One of the biggest challenges in starting things up again when they’re supposed to is traveling.  Taking bus rides to other schools, going inside locker rooms at other schools, competing against other teams with kids that nobody knows where they’ve been throughout this pandemic – these are the concerns. While some sports certainly seem safer to start before others, Robinson does not think that will happen.

“I don’t know that we would bring back one of the sports and not the others; it just creates a whole other issue,” said Robinson.

While things are looking up, there is still a way to go. In order to have sports again as we knew them prior to March, practices and training may change behind the scenes for the foreseeable future.

“I think you will definitely see a different practice structure,” said Murray. “In terms of the spread of the virus, if you have all your quarterbacks together at one time, and there is an unfortunate case, you may be out of quarterbacks. I think there will be a lot of meetings electronically and maybe some different practice times.”

At a time like this, it is consequential that athletes stay in their best shape.

“They have their lifting and running program so they can stay in physical shape,” said Parady. “Some kids don’t have gyms so we give them a home workout.”

Parady also stressed the importance of keeping his athletes mentally ready: “We’ll start back up this week with Zoom meetings, talking about plays, assignments, watching films, which is all very beneficial, we feel.”

In a period of time that will soon be in the history books, the world has been put on pause. Questions are still yet to be answered but athletic directors and coaches around the country are doing their best, primarily focusing on safety as their top priority.

“I am optimistic that we will get through the fall as best we can, which will lead to a successful winter season and beyond,” said Murray. “But we really do need a vaccine to get back to being totally normal.”

 

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