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If fall sports take place, SUNYAC has a plan

PLATTSBURGH — SUNY Plattsburgh and the other SUNYAC member schools have a plan to play this fall, now it’s just waiting to see if that plan will get used.

“Every coach in the country at every level is asking where do we go, how do we do it and how do we do it safely,” said Tania Armellino, women’s soccer coach at SUNY Plattsburgh. “This is like nothing I’ve ever experienced in my lifetime or my 13 years of college coaching.”

The SUNYAC Board of Directors made the decision to split the conference into two divisions last month, a restructuring that SUNY Plattsburgh Athletic Director Mike Howard said he and his fellow directors decided upon after meeting at least once a week for the last month and a half or so.

“Like everyone else in this COVID era, it’s created a lot more work and planning for things that we never really thought we’d have to think about before,” Howard said. “Normally, the summer months are usually a down time on the athletic side of things.”

The West Division will consist of Brockport, Buffalo State, Fredonia, Geneseo and Oswego, while Plattsburgh will compete in the East Division along with Cortland, New Paltz, Oneonta and Potsdam.

In the regular season tentatively scheduled to start Sept. 30, the men’s and women’s soccer teams and women’s volleyball teams will play home-and-home divisional matchups to determine the top two teams of each division, who will then make the playoffs.

Those top seeds will be put into crossover semifinal matchups where the top seed of each division will face the opposite division’s second seed.

“The east/west division made the most sense travel-wise; It pretty much takes overnights out of the equation, and helps on the budget side,” Howard said. “It’ll be a shorter season with more of a conference-centric type of schedule.”

Women’s tennis, a sport the NCAA allows universities to compete in in both the fall and spring, is normally competed in the fall by participating SUNYAC members but will be pushed to the spring this year.

PLAN IN PLACE

Though the SUNYAC’s athletic directors have the structure ready if games can go forward, they understand that the fluidity of public health in the time of COVID-19 might mean a cancelled season.

“I think I speak for every athletic director in the conference when I say that the health and well-being of our student athletes and student populations as a whole, is our number one goal,” Howard said. “If we get to a point later this month or in August where it just doesn’t look good, then we won’t hesitate to say we can’t do it.”

There are still some ongoing efforts in regards to making safety recommendations for the possible season, Howard said, adding that he expects some movement on the decision to cancel or not will come within the next couple weeks.

“We’re getting close to the time where we have to kind of make some decisions here,” Howard said.

While many collegiate athletic conferences around the country have already decided to cancel their fall seasons, Howard mentioned that the SUNYAC conference being contained to New York state has given the directors some hope, as the state’s COVID-19 situation has improved more than many other states at this point in time.

“I think that’s given us all hope to go as far as we can with planning,” Howard said. “We feel like we owe it to our student-athletes to give them their best shot.”

THE ATHLETES

The setup of the season will look foreign to returning athletes, but many seem to just be looking forward to any kind of opportunity to play.

“Every one of our fall coaches to a person has said to me, ‘If we can just get out and play, that’s what we’re hearing from our student-athletes,'” Howard said, with Armellino echoing the sentiment, saying, “Everybody is just ready to play, if it’s safe to do so.”

Whether the athletic year starts with the fall season, or with the winter or spring sports seasons, there will be added protective procedures in place, Howard said, including extra sanitizing of equipment and facility spaces, student-athlete symptom screening and use of masks on sidelines.

As for spectators, Howard hopes that limited numbers might be possible down the line.

“I think if we were playing games today, there would be no spectators,” he said. “Hopefully, a month or two from now, we’ll be at the point that we can have some.”

The athletes will have three to four weeks of practices before games even begin, with the NCAA recommending a slow start with small group practices and social distancing, Howard said.

CROSS COUNTRY

While soccer and volleyball teams in the SUNYAC were given their new divisional structure, the meet competition nature of cross country means that that sport’s scheduling situation for the fall is a bit more up in the air, according to head coach Andrew Krug.

“Things are evolving as leagues, conferences and schools make their decisions as time goes on,” Krug said.

Efforts to reduce travel and avoid social contact mean Krug expects that travelling to downstate meets will be less common, with local matchups involving colleges like SUNY Potsdam, Clarkson and St. Lawrence being more of the focus.

“I’m definitely expecting it to be more local meets,” Krug said. “Having them in the mix would be great.”

While the outdoor, singular nature of running cross country makes aspects of the sport reasonably safe in a COVID-19 world,

“I think there are some things to our advantage, but having a starting line where they are in their closest proximity is the one concern,” Krug said. “With having smaller, more localized meets it will open up the starting line to have space between teams.”

Whether or not the season goes forward, Krug’s runners, like the women’s soccer team, are excited about the possibility of competition.

“Our student-athletes are still at home, training for the upcoming season regardless,” Krug said. “They’re just generally anxious to see what’s going to happen.”

GOING FORWARD

The SUNYAC conference was originally looking into planning for the winter and spring seasons while planning for the fall, Howard said, but ended up deciding to focus on seeing how the autumn went first.

“I think patience and flexibility are going to be the main things,” Krug said. “It’s going to be very different, and we’re going to have to adapt.”

And Howard echoed local and national health officials in encouraging the continued safety precautions to prevent the spread of COVID-19, saying that they’ll be necessary to maintain an environment where athletics will be possible.

“Our best shot at playing, and eventually getting to the point of allowing spectators, is for people to keep wearing masks and keep social distancing,” Howard said. “If we can get people in Plattsburgh to buy into that, and our students to buy into that when they get back, we have a much better shot.”

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