Fall sports look toward spring after cancellation

By Dylan Manfre

After all the heartache fall athletes endured from their seasons being canceled, the crestfallen players and coaches have hope for sports in the spring of 2021, according to an announcement from the NCAA.

The NCAA Board of Directors met by videoconference on Aug. 21 to discuss the Division I Council’s recommendation of holding fall sports during the spring season. This can only go into effect if the institution of the championships can be held safely under state and local health guidelines.

All NCAA member schools can do is ponder what the winter and spring seasons will look like in the world of COVID-19. Just because the NCAA will work to hold the fall championships in the spring, does not guarantee anything and the execution will be met with numerous challenges. 

It’s going to be very difficult to manage operationally. We want to try to get there as a group because we feel the athletes deserve every chance to compete,” Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference (MAAC) Commissioner Rich Ensor told The Rider News last week. “We’re having conversations at the NCAA level and the NCAA is now committed to doing fall sports in the spring.”

Rider Athletic Director Don Harnum used the word “goal” in describing holding fall sports in the spring adding “I think anything is possible,” when asked about if a potential cancellation of the spring season could happen too.

“It’s a goal and we’re hopeful to play fall sports in the spring but it’s not a given in this environment at all,” Harnum said. “I think the transmission rate and the infection rate have to go way down. Hopefully, there’s a vaccine that’s available and people are taking it by the end of the year to make that happen.”

This multi-layered herculean task of holding fall and spring sports simultaneously has no straight answer. One roadblock that could draw the ire of some conferences is the NCAA discussing a “scaled-back” championship season to which mid-major conferences such as the MAAC may not be invited to a championship tournament.

“[The NCAA has] not committed to [automatic qualifiers] for all 32 conferences,” Ensor said. “If we’re going to do a compressed season, in order to get a championship done by a date set by the NCAA so they can run a championship to which [the MAAC is] not invited — potentially, I don’t know that we aren’t I’m just saying — then it just complicates the equation that much more.”

What the fall will look like

On July 17, the MAAC announced Sept. 11 as the first date of competition for the fall season but changed course 10 days later, canceling the season.

This was not news to women’s soccer sophomore forward Makenzie Rodrigues. As soon as she heard the announcement of the Sept. 11 start date, she knew it was not going to last.

“I was a little pessimistic,” Rodrigues said via Zoom. “When they told us we were having a season I was excited but I didn’t think it would last very long so then when it came the news that it was canceled I was like ‘Oh, darn it,’ but I saw this coming.”

So far, multiple Rider student-athletes have opted not to return to campus. Women’s soccer senior goalkeeper Carmen Carbonell made her decision to remain in Spain and not rejoin the team for the fall semester public via an Instagram post.

Field hockey junior forward Carly Brosious admitted opting-out of the season did cross her mind when it was initially announced a season would be held but never thought of making a decision. She knew the option was there for her should she decide to take it.

“At first I was a little apprehensive about all of it,” said Brosious who scored a career-high 12 goals last season and was named to the All-Northeast Conference First Team. “Now that I’m getting closer to it I’m really excited to be back with my friends and playing [with my teammates]. After all the meetings we’ve had, I’ve felt a lot more comfortable.”

Second-year volleyball head coach Jeff Rotondo said that since his 17 players have returned to Lawerenceville, they have the opportunity to participate in 30-minute voluntary workouts in Alumni Gym.

“The coaches are there supervising, not instructing. It’s more about just coming in, getting some reps in, shaking the rust off,” Rotondo said. “Obviously we have them come in and sanitize themselves really quickly, keep their masks on, socially distance even when they’re stretching … for [the athletes] it’s a chance to do what they love because they’ve missed it for four or five months now. Just getting in and touching a ball. It’s really just to play again and I think internally that will help them.”

The same format applies to women’s soccer, men’s soccer, and field hockey, who are also participating in the strictly voluntary workouts with limited intervention from coaches.

Official practices can begin on Sept. 14 when teams can workout in “pods” of small groups of four or five people.

Until then, at least this is some form of normalcy.

Follow Dylan Manfre on Twitter for the latest news on Rider Athletics.

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