Sports: Fall outlook

Sports editor, Pete Burnett, outlines how different fall will look at the University of Dayton, photo courtesy of Flyer News.

Peter Burtnett
Sports Editor

As the University of Dayton athletic department continues to navigate the COVID-19 pandemic, Athletic Director and Vice President Neil Sullivan said the decision-making process is focused on student-athletes.

“I would just say, it’s all about the students,” Sullivan said. “That’s my headline. We (normally) go into people’s homes and host them on visits. They’re here to get an education, first and foremost, but their identity as a student-athlete is a critical piece of who they are. So, we’re going to work as best we can to make things as safe as possible, for an opportunity for them to work on their craft and work on their skills. How much of that we’ll be able to do, only time will tell, but our commitment is to the young men and women that came here to do that.”

Because of the reaction to the COVID-19 pandemic, fall sports and the competitive opportunities for these student-athletes are looking more in danger than previously thought, as many conferences have either cancelled, postponed, or altered their fall sports. 

On July 17, the Atlantic 10 conference announced the postponement of all scheduled fall competitions and championships due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

Regarding athletics at the University of Dayton, this announcement directly affects: men’s and women’s soccer, men’s and women’s cross country, and volleyball, along with the cancellation of UD football’s home opener against Robert Morris and the fall competitions for men’s golf, men’s and women’s tennis, and women’s rowing. Non-traditional competitions for baseball and softball in the fall are also postponed.

Sullivan said the toughest challenge during this pandemic has been the unknown surrounding the decisions that are made at.

“You’re getting information about your next chess move, but you’re actually playing 3-dimensional chess,” Sullivan said. “So you’re not sure how valid your decisions are because they can be invalidated sometimes within minutes, if not days… the other (challenge) is that at the end of the day we serve students who come here to compete and practice and play, and it’s really hard when that opportunity doesn’t exist for them because that’s one of the key reasons they come here.”

The UD athletic department has held team Zoom meetings with each fall sports team and has provided context for the decisions they have made. Sullivan said he has been honest with student-athletes and coaches and that communication has been key in combating a complex situation, where “agility,nimbleness and processing of various decision points” are needed.

One of those recent decision points that affected UD was the postponement by the A10 conference. However, there is still room for hope,as the announcement by the A10 established a 60-day “look-in window,” which will take place in mid-September, when league officials will reevaluate the situation and determine whether a “potentially truncated” competitive schedule in-conference could take place. This decision would only be made if the risk surrounding COVID-19 has substantially been reduced. If not, fall sports could be played in the spring.

“The decision that the (A10) President’s Council made was to officially postpone fall sports,” Sullivan said when asked if he could put a percent chance that sports will be played in the fall. “In that regard, that’s what we should expect. At the same time, the presidents did say, and they did understand the fluidity of the situation, and they said, ‘Hey, we’re going to put this look-in window in in mid-September, now we have the ability to go and say, hey, has the world changed, and so we reevaluate our decision.’ So, while some conferences have delayed making a decision, the Atlantic 10 actually made one.”

Sullivan went on to compare the A10’s decision and look-in window to instant replay in football.

“(We can) say, look, here’s the call on the field,” Sullivan said. “The call on the field was postponement. There is a chance to kind of throw in the challenge flag and go to the monitor and see if the medical evidence could suggest changing that decision.”

A competitive schedule for fall sports in the 2021 spring semester is the current intention for the A10 conference, but only if the proper health protocols can be followed. Details for rescheduling of contests and championships will be determined “at a later date,” but the health and safety of all involved is the primary concern for the A10.

For the football team, which is part of the Pioneer Football League (going to a conference-only schedule in 2020), the first kickoff is now scheduled to be Sept. 26 on the road against Marist, who went 4-7 last year and fell 59-35 to UD.

Teams will be able to return to practice upon their return to campus, and will train and practice under the “approved safety protocols established in partnership with the league, each institution and local public health experts.”

Sullivan said UD has a plan for student-athletes to train and practice under the “best conditions possible,” with the goal to “mitigate risk and increase the likelihood of safe outcomes.” Policies, practices, and protocols will be left to medical professionals to determine. 

UD is up for any challenges and Sullivan said any financial fallout will be better understood they will have a better idea of what that fallout will be at a later time, but adjusted spending and prudency to face “whatever realities we face.”

The immediate fallout of this decision is yet to be seen, but with preparations for altered practices underway, student-athletes will still be able to stay in shape and ready for the season, whenever it begins and will be the focal point of the decisions made by the UD athletic department. 

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