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SUNYAC suspends fall sports, delays winter season back

Plattsburgh State’s Axel Rodriguez (2) drives to the basket from the wing during a SUNYAC men's basketball game against Brockport, Jan. 11, at Memorial Hall. (Kayla Breen — Press-Republican)

See you in 2021.

That’s a good way to summarize the State University of New York Athletic Conference’s announcement that its athletic events will be put on hold until January.

The decision was announced by the SUNYAC at 6 p.m. Monday, highlighting how the COVID-19 pandemic continues to plague the sports scene as well as what it will take for athletic events to resume.

For now, fall sports competition has been suspended, and in addition, the winter conference and non-conference schedules will be delayed until Jan. 1, 2021.

TOUGH CALL

The SUNYAC presidents in consultation with the SUNYAC Board of Directors made the decision.

“As a former student-athlete, I empathize with the disappointment our students must feel not being able to compete this fall,” Erik Bitterbaum, the chair of the SUNYAC Presidents said.

“But our priority is the health and safety of everyone involved with intercollegiate athletics, and we will continue to plan for a safe return to competition at the appropriate time.”

The SUNYAC, a Division III conference headquartered in Cortland, is comprised of Plattsburgh State, New Paltz, Oneonta, Potsdam, Brockport, Buffalo State, Fredonia, Geneseo, Cortland and Oswego.

Morrisville is an affiliate member.

‘I AM CONFIDENT’

While this news was nothing anyone involved in Plattsburgh State athletics wanted to hear, there’s still plenty of optimism.

“Despite the absence of competition this fall, I am confident that we will be able to continue providing our student-athletes with an engaging athletic experience that includes a great opportunity for personal skill development and growth through small group workouts,” Mike Howard, Plattsburgh State Director of Intercollegiate Athletics and Recreation and chair of the SUNYAC Governing Body, explained.

“Our coaches are some of the best in the business at seizing opportunity when options seem limited, and this certainly will be no exception as they continue recruiting, mentoring and engaging safely in community service.”

This announcement comes on the heels of the unfortunate fate sports met in March when the NCAA canceled the remainder of the winter and spring sports seasons.

“This is certainly a somber day in Cardinal Country for our student-athletes, and I’m especially sorry for our seniors,” Howard said.

“That said, there is no doubt given the current situation that this was the best decision for the health and safety of our student-athletes, our staff and the entire SUNY Plattsburgh Community. Today’s challenges yield tomorrow’s rewards, and I remain very confident that we will see Cardinal athletics back in action and competing at a high level as soon as we possibly can given all the necessary health and safety measures.”

DIVISION PLAN

Before Monday’s decision, the SUNYAC planned to use a divisional system for the fall season, which was implemented to cut down on travel and help take precautions against COVID-19.

While this system created a sense of optimism about the season actually taking place, various conferences around the country electing to not have sports this fall changed the narrative.

“This past week was a big change of a week in terms of a loss of more conferences who withdrew from play,” Plattsburgh State women’s soccer coach Tania Armellino said. “There were continuous changes, regionally, and you knew something like this could be on the table.

“Ultimately, we are living this all day to day. Who would have thought in March that we would be having this conversation in July that fall sports would be suspended. You just step back and say, ‘Wow.'”

AN UNUSUAL FALL

This will be the first fall in 14 years that Armellino will not be coaching a conventional fall season.

However, she, as well as other coaches plan to make the most of the opportunities presented.

While there will be no fall season, Plattsburgh State and other SUNYAC schools will look to create potential scenarios where team workouts and modified practices can still be held.

“In a time like this, you become even more thankful for the time you get as a coach to be on the field and with your players and be together,” Armellino said. “If I am on that field for them in any capacity, even if it’s not traditional, it’s going to be an opportunity to embrace.”

As for any chance for fall teams to play in the spring, nothing is in place as of now, but Armellino said she will be ready for anything.

“We don’t know what will happen in the spring, but we also never know what will happen tomorrow or the next day,” Armellino said. “We always want to be prepared if there’s a chance for us to play.”

THE WINTER AND ON

While winter teams have more hope for a season at this point, nothing will be conventional, as the season can’t get underway until the next calendar year.

The SUNYAC stressed it is dedicated to make the return to sports as safe as possible.

“It provides an opportunity and gives us a chance to think creatively,” Plattsburgh State men’s basketball coach Mike Blaine said. “We will have an opportunity to practice in the fall under different circumstances. It gives us an opportunity to think outside the box a bit and do things we might not normally do in the preseason. We just have to move forward in a positive direction.”

Blaine said this is a challenging time for all involved in Plattsburgh State athletics as well as all teams in the SUNYAC, but he also acknowledged there’s still a chance to prepare for a season with his team.

He said his team was disappointed but not shocked by the news.

“We have a good group of young men,” Blaine said. “There are returners and newcomers who know the opportunity to compete has been postponed, but they understood the current state of affairs in our country, medically speaking.

“I was proud of the responses we got from the guys and look forward to moving ahead when we have the chance.”

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