By Dylan Manfre
Planning the 2020 season was a nightmare for Rider Athletics and Athletic Director Don Harnum. He was clear when he said it was the hardest season to plan for in his tenure at Rider University.
Harnum is grateful for the lessened anxiety surrounding the build-up to the first true fall season since 2019. However, there is some concern as the new delta variant cripples the country.
Harnum was able to take in the women’s soccer team’s season-opener on Aug. 20 at Ben Cohen Field against Wagner College from his usual spot to the left of the scorer’s table. Across the field from him, the fans in the stands comprised more than the parents of the players this year.
“This was one I was actually looking forward to because it is a little bit more normal,” Harnum said. “It was good to see people sitting across the way and actually being able to attend the games.”
Harnum was quick to note the high vaccination status of the student-athletes, which is around 96-97%, in a Zoom interview with The Rider News in August. That number was provided to him by the trainers.
He knew the number would not be 100% because of religious and medical exemptions that the University offers on a limited basis to students. Harnum speculated there were four or five teams with unvaccinated student-athletes.
The high vaccination rate has allowed for a modified form of business as usual for Harnum’s staff and the fall sports season.
“I know you can still get [COVID-19] by being vaccinated, but I’m a lot less worried about people getting really sick,” said Harnum, who is fully vaccinated himself. “I’m a lot less worried about a lot of pauses.”
He credited the conference brass Rich Ensor and company for instituting a vaccine mandate early on. Some schools in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference (MAAC) already mandated their students to be vaccinated before coming to campus.
Those who are unvaccinated will be subjected to testing three times a week, according to the conference’s guidelines released on Aug. 11, which instituted a vaccine mandate for all student-athletes and game-day personnel. The league’s press release did not explicitly name coaches as part of the vaccine mandate.
Harnum said, however, “almost every coach is vaccinated.” He did not comment on which coaches were not vaccinated.
New Scheduling Policy
One of the most noticeable changes from last year, besides the sports teams playing in the appropriate seasons, is the return to a full-length slate of games.
When the college basketball season was in full swing press releases were frequently sent out announcing scheduling changes because of COVID-19 related issues.
The MAAC enacted a new policy that says if a team does not have a sufficient amount of players available because of a COVID-19 issue, they will forfeit the contest and the opponent will get a win.
The 11 athletic directors were consulted on the unanimous vote and Harnum was “absolutely” in favor of its passing.
“We can’t keep operating the way we did last year,” he said. “I think this shifts the responsibility a little back to the teams, the coaches and the individual schools. Let’s keep everyone healthy, so we can keep going and not have to forfeit.”
The Northeast Conference, which the field hockey team is a part of, adopted its cancellation policy on Sept. 3 should a game not be played because of COVID-19. It is similar to the MAAC’s policy in that if a team does not have enough players, it would result in a forfeit.
Field hockey senior midfielder Carly Brosious felt it was a “fair policy, teams have to make sacrifices for one another, in a way that’s a test to that.”