VOORHEES, N.J. — Collegiate athletic directors across the state of Maryland are facing the same uphill battle as those in the rest of the country — unprecedented chaos — after the National Collegiate Athletic Association’s decision to cancel any remaining winter and spring sports seasons due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
More than one month after the initial, March 12 decision, the situation is as fluid as ever and there is no timetable to return.
Right now, what’s next is the biggest question any athletic director has had to face.
“We gotta always be prepared,” University of Maryland Athletic Director Damon Evans told Capital News Service. “I think we gotta have plan A, plan B and plan C, to a certain extent. We gotta start looking to the fall.”
Evans first heard about the news while with the Maryland men’s basketball team in Indianapolis for the Big Ten Tournament — on a conference call with the other Big Ten athletic directors.
His situation wasn’t unique, as other athletic directors were at conference tournaments or NCAA Championships across the country.
Coppin State University Athletic Director Derek Carter was at the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference Basketball Tournament in Norfolk, Virginia, when the news came down.
“The women played their first game on Tuesday and the men were scheduled to play Thursday at 8 p.m.” Carter said. “Between Tuesday and Thursday, the amount of change that occurred was unbelievable.”
In a new normal, people are still getting adjusted to life without sports, and life in isolation. The loss stings for many.
Unlike coaches and student-athletes, the day-to-day jobs of athletic directors are less on the field and more in the office, but office or not, this is new territory.
“I think for me, so much of my life is centered around sport,” Frostburg State University Athletic Director Troy Dell said. “Sports have always been a huge part of my life. It feels like a big portion of my life is hollow right now. It’s a huge void that I hope returns soon.”
For some, it was unexpected. Others, like Navy Athletic Director Chet Gladchuk, had been following it from the beginning. Gladchuk, in particular, had the benefit of speaking with members of the Navy’s medical staff, who had been following it since the initial outbreak.
He cancelled two European spring trips the week of the NCAA’s decision: a men’s soccer team trip to Scotland, and a women’s soccer team trip to Italy. Once Italy emerged as a COVID-19 hotspot, the decision was swift and easy.
“It was well-received,” Gladchuk said. “(The coaches and players) didn’t push back at all. I think that everyone realized in the early going that this was a very serious issue.”
Beyond the reality of the sport being gone temporarily, athletic directors had to relay the cancellations to their teams, coaches and more importantly, the student-athletes.
Since the decision, the NCAA came out with a ruling that allowed an extra year of eligibility for student-athletes at all levels participating in spring sports. However, initially, that wasn’t a possibility.
“First and foremost, my heart goes out to (the student-athletes),” Bowie State University Athletic Director Clyde Doughty Jr. said. “You only get four years to be a student-athlete and for those seniors, I feel really bad for them.”
Now, with it being a possibility, athletic directors across the country have to scramble to figure out how to incorporate those extra years of eligibility, especially for seniors who choose to return.
That’s not a realistic possibility for every senior, as some have the ability to play professionally or have a post-graduate job already set up. Regardless, the consensus, at least among those within the state, is that the NCAA made the right decision at the right time looking back on it.
“The spring eligibility, giving these kids the opportunity, potentially, to have their season back, I think is the appropriate response and a good decision and one that has the best interest of our students in mind,” University of Maryland, Baltimore County Athletic Director Brian Barrio said. “I’m all for it.”
As important as sports is in society, an event like this helps put the athletic world in perspective with what’s going on in the real world.
“When you step out of your own job and your own industry, you understand that this is a nationwide, worldwide problem, and we all need to do our part to get past this,” St. Mary’s College Athletic Director Scott Devine said.
Sports might not be going on right now, but athletics programs are still keeping up on social media, like at McDaniel College, whose soccer team has participated in the “Toilet Paper Challenge”, where players juggle rolls of toilet paper with their feet.
Meetings are still being held virtually and athletics programs are still going on without sports, but one of the biggest things to come out of this pandemic is the support that has been shown across the country, especially for collegiate athletics.
Thousands of student-athletes have had their seasons cut short, but are continuing to keep up resolve in a time of uncertainty.
“The students themselves have been outstanding, and it shouldn’t surprise me,” Towson University Athletic Director Tim Leonard said. “They have handled it well.”
This all leads back to what’s next — and that’s a great unknown. Right now, all eyes are set on the fall to get right back into the swing of things.
“We don’t know what the future will hold. We don’t know whether we will be back in session in the fall,” Salisbury University Athletic Director Gerry DiBartolo said. “The only thing that we can do is plan as if we’re gonna be back in the fall and know that there might have to be adjustments made based on what happens.”