Southern athletics shut down as COVID-19 threat increases


Hunter O. Lyle – Sports Editor

Sam Tapper – Sports Writer

In response to the rapidly developing pandemic of COVID-19, commonly referred to as the coronavirus, Southern has chosen to immediately shut down and move all classes online, a decision that has also stopped any and all athletics in their tracks.

“This is serious stuff,” said Southern Athletic Director Jay Moran. “This is a situation where the health and well-being of, not only our athletes, but our entire student body and our neighbors and everyone else in the world, is more important than continuing athletics at this point in time.”

Originally on March 9, in coordination with the Connecticut State College and University Systems and Southern administration, Moran put an “immediate freeze” on all athletic competition through spring break, as well as holding “all institutionally-sponsored travel outside of Connecticut until further notice,” according to a press release by Southern Athletics on Monday.

However, after more information surrounding the coronavirus developed, further action was taken after a mandate by the NE10 Conference.

As of now, baseball — which stands at 6-3-1—, softball — 1-6 — and lacrosse — 2-3, have all had their seasons cut short, effective immediately, until at least April 13th, according to a statement released by the NE10 on March 12. Baseball has had 31 of its final 50 games canceled, softball had 31 of the 41 remaining games canceled and lacrosse canceled eight of the final 12.

“In light of the collective decisions of the majority of NE10 members to have students return home indefinitely and continue their academic work remotely due to the ongoing spread of COVID-19, the NE10 Council of Presidents have unanimously determined that NE10 spring sports competition will be suspended until April 13,” stated the NE10 Council of Presidents in their release. “This decision is effective Friday, March 13.”

According to Associate Athletic Director of athletic communications Ken Sweeten, as things stand now in this “wait-and-see” period, it is too early to tell whether or not athletics will resume after the previously set date.

“It is possible [to continue athletics after the April 13th target date], but is it likely? I don’t know,” said Sweeten, who, along with his colleagues in the athletic department, will be working from home for the time being. “You see a lot of stuff coming out right now — the NCAA spring championships, the thing with the NBA, I really don’t know. We come back April 13, assuming that we are, I don’t know how much of the season is left. You’re talking about two weeks or so.”

Other sports that faced cancelations were swimming and diving and track and field, who were both set to compete in NCAAs. Athletes from both sports already traveled and were scheduled to compete throughout March 11 to 14, with swimming and diving in Geneva, Ohio and track and field in Birmingham, Ala.

For swimming, senior Avery Forniciari, on the women’s side, and senior Leo LaPorte and freshman Andrew Buehler, from the men’s side, were in the facility and set to compete when the announcement was made.

Seniors Justin Kelley and Oghenefejiro Onakpoma were two of the seven track and field athletes sent to NCAA’s, who stayed in Alabama for several days before returning home on Friday, March 13. Returning to their hotels after practicing, the two found out about the NBA’s decision, and soon after heard the news of their own competitions.

“I was shocked. Well, honestly, I was prepared, but I didn’t want to believe it,” said Onakpoma, who was looking to compete on the national level for the fourth consecutive year. “I was just so locked in on trying to compete that I didn’t want to believe that the coronavirus could affect me.”

For Kelly, the news had more of an impact, since it was his first opportunity to be an All-American in his five years at Southern.

“I was really upset, no lie,” said Kelly. “I was definitely upset. [After the whole season], now we’ve reached the final moment to really go crazy at All-Americans and then boom.”

Outside of themselves, both Kelly and Onakpoma expressed sympathy for the younger athletes, specifically the freshmen, whose first opportunity to compete in NCAA’s was taken from them before it even started.

“It even sucks more because we have a lot of dudes that were underclassmen, we also have a lot of guys that were underdogs and it’s their first time coming to a national meet or anything,” said Kelly. “So, seeing them come to the height of their success at the collegiate level, and then they really can’t even compete.”

While nothing is official, there will be ongoing conversations between Southern administration, NE10 and NCAA officials on when, or if, it is appropriate to resume athletics for the rest of the season.

“As athletic administrators and university administrators, we’re going to have to decide, as well as the conference, is it worth playing those few weeks, if we get to that. I’m not sure if we’ll even get there,” said Moran. “Right now, the NCAA is looking at blanket waivers for all these athletes to get their year of eligibility back, should we not compete.” 

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