Updated: Oct 24, 2020
BY REYNA IWAMOTO- STAFF WRITER
Due to the Coronavirus pandemic (COVID-19) that put the world on pause, college students were forced to cut their school year short and return home to finish the academic year online.
COVID-19 not only put an end to in-person classes, but it also interrupted many athletes’ sports, preventing them from completing or finishing their seasons. With the upcoming school year fast approaching, it brings the looming uncertainty of whether or not student-athletes will be able to participate in the upcoming sports seasons.
An interrupted season
In late March, the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) terminated all remaining winter and spring championships, bringing an abrupt end to many student-athletes’ sports seasons. The sports that were interrupted at LIU include that of Baseball, Men’s and Women’s Lacrosse, Women’s Water Polo and Softball. Many sports also hold their championships during the spring season like Men’s and Women’s Golf, Women’s Tennis, Women’s Bowling, as well as Men’s and Women’s Outdoor Track & Field.
Julia Zebak competed in her first year as goalie on the Women’s Water Polo team and was just one of the many athletes who had to pack their bags midway through the season and head home.
“I felt very upset. We were meant to have our first league game the weekend after the season was cancelled. As an athlete with a very late season, it was heartbreaking to not get to complete our inaugural season to its fullest,” Zebak said.
Camille Watson, another rising sophomore, is on the Women’s Track & Field team and was unable to complete her season championships for Outdoor Track & Field.
“Having my 2020 spring season end the way it did was hard to grasp for a little bit,” Watson said. “I was really excited for our spring season because we were to train really hard and travel and it all disappeared so quickly.”
Due to the inability for many athletes to finish their season, the NCAA put out a statement at the beginning of March, permitting that Division I athletes of Spring sports, such as Outdoor Track & Field and Water Polo, be given an extra year of eligibility.
This announcement shifted many student-athletes’ timelines for their graduation, including that of Zebak, who plans to take advantage of the extra year of eligibility.
“Originally, I was hoping to graduate with a double major and double minor and finish in four years, but thanks to the addition of an extra year, I made the choice to remain at one major and minor in order to graduate in three years and pursue a two year graduate or masters degree while continuing to participate in university athletics,” Zebak said.
For some athletes like Watson however, they remain on the fence about taking advantage of the opportunity of an extra year of participation. As of now, Watson is proceeding with her initial plans to graduate in 2023; however, she shared that when she becomes a senior and still has an extra year, she may reconsider her decision and choose to stay to attain a Masters Degree and continue to compete.
Despite COVID-19 interfering with these sports, the new school year is right around the corner and many student-athletes are now looking to the next sports season for redemption. But what lies in front of them is a future of uncertainty, as to whether or not they will even be able to train and compete in the next season.
A future of uncertainty
As COVID-19 continues to affect the U.S., the Northeast Conference (NEC) made the decision to delay the start of upcoming Fall sports competitions.
NEC Commissioner Noreen Morris made a statement on July 9, 2020 that, “With so many unknown factors at this point in time, the NEC has elected to delay the start of competition and take advantage of the extra time to continue to evaluate the local, regional and national landscape relative to COVID-19. The Presidents will reconvene in a few weeks to chart the course moving forward.”
The NEC has also created a COVID-19 Medical Advisory Committee, comprising campus medical professionals and administrators. This committee has been and continues to develop policies and protocols to support a safe return to college athletics, and to mitigate the spread and transmission of COVID-19.
The NEC stated that, “These guidelines will include a phased in approach to conditioning and practice activities, detailed game day health checklists and best practices, and facility/venue expectations related to cleanliness, access, equipment needs and traffic.”
The NCAA has also put out recommendations regarding guidelines in which universities should consider when resocializing and starting their sports seasons. Many student-athletes expressed their concerns and the precautions they feel would make their return to campus safer and more comfortable.
Mia Perkins, rising senior on the Women’s Basketball team, shared what she considers to be essential when beginning training on campus. “I'm actually okay with returning to campus if new rules and guidelines are placed," Perkins said "I would for sure want social distancing meaning no more than 10 people inside of an area, mask being worn, temperature check."
Rising sophomore Miranda Strongman, middle blocker on the Women’s Volleyball team, just finished her first year on the team this past Fall season. Strongman said her team has already begun discussing some preliminary guidelines they could potentially put in place during their practices.
“For training, especially for my sport, it’s really difficult to take precautions. My teammates and I have talked about a couple ideas, such as using a lesser amount of balls, but we still have yet to think of anything that would improve our safety and not affect how we play our sport,” Strongman said.
Although many things remain ambiguous, LIU has currently put out preliminary guidelines regarding on-campus living and attending face-to-face classes this next school year. Some of these precautions include that of social distancing when possible on campus, required facial coverings when in public around campus and reduced capacity configurations in the residence hall on campus.
As many student-athletes are struck with worries about this upcoming season, these sentiments strike especially hard with seniors as this may be their last chance to participate in college athletics.
Jennifer Roback, rising senior on the Women’s Bowling team, shared her worries about not being able to complete her final year of college bowling.
“Honestly, it’s a horrible feeling not knowing what’s going to happen this year...for all I know it could be the last time I compete in a tournament atmosphere and thinking about not being able to compete on the lanes with my teammates isn’t really how I want my senior year to go,” Roback said. “I hope that I get one last year with my teammates and friends on and off the lanes.”
Perkins also expressed similar sentiments to Roback, saying that, “It's kind of frustrating, especially when you're a senior, you don’t really know if you're going to play your last year or just have a normal year.”
Amanda Peren, an incoming senior on the Women’s Swim team, added that, “It’s heartbreaking to think of the possibility that my teammates and I might not be competing this year, especially considering all the hard work we have been putting in during this frenzied time period.”
What lies ahead
While the sentiments regarding the sports season remain full of worry and doubt, student-athletes at LIU are trying to keep positive outlooks, maintaining goals for their next season in the event that their sports seasons take place as projected.
Roback is maintaining hope for the sports season, saying that, “With everything going on you can’t tell for certain what’s going to happen but the only thing you can do is hope that everything turns out okay in the end.”
Peren, who won many accolades this past season such as, NEC Scholar Athlete of the Year and LIU Female Athlete of the Year, is keeping her head up and her eyes on her prize for her final swim season.
“I know that this coming season, whether it be this year or the next, will be an all time high for the LIU Women’s Swimming team,” Peren said.
Despite the future of college athletics resting squarely in the unpredictable hands of COVID-19, student-athletes are reluctant to give up their optimism for this next season and for those like Track & Field team member Watson, are anxious to resume training and competing.
“I hope overall we’re all able to come back on campus and train hard and compete for LIU and bring back some trophies for our school, win some championships and keep competing,” Watson said.