SUNY will have spring sports
PLATTSBURGH — The SUNYAC is back after nearly a year of postponements and cancellations to its athletic competitions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
SUNY Chancellor Jim Malatras announced at a press conference at Oswego’s Romney Field House, Tuesday, that the State University of New York Athletic Conference is moving forward with a spring season.
The SUNYAC will be split in an eastern and western region using Interstate 81 as a rough dividing line.
Competition is slated to begin on March 20, and all plans are tentative due to the unpredictable natures of the coronavirus.
The sports set to be played this spring include baseball, softball, lacrosse, tennis, and track and field.
“The pandemic has kept our student-athletes off the playing field for too long, but thanks to the great work and effort of SUNYAC Commissioner Tom DiCamillo, our campus presidents, the SUNYAC leadership, athletic directors, coaches and our athletes, we’ve developed a workable plan to resume athletic competition,” Malatras said.
“I look forward to all of the great competition this year, and SUNY, like always, will aggressively handle any situations related to COVID as they emerge. I have confidence in our students — both on and off the field — to stay the course and comply to keep one another and our entire campuses and communities safe.”
A long road
Plattsburgh State’s Mike Howard, director of intercollegiate athletics and recreation, had to give some of the most devastating news Cardinal Country had been dealt in its history when the pandemic forced the cancellation of the remainder of the winter and spring seasons on March 12, 2020.
Nearly a year later, Howard stood in the Plattsburgh State Field House lobby to announce Cardinal athletics returning.
“When we had those initial conversations almost a year ago, I don’t think any of us quite knew where time was going to take us,” Howard said. “We have certainly all encountered a lot of challenges along the way, and as (Malatras) indicated in his remarks today, we are almost certain to have some challenges between now and when we play that first game on March 20 and hopefully when we play the last games in mid to late May.
“We have had challenges, and I know we will still have some challenges ahead, but I could not be happier to be standing here knowing we have an opportunity to have a season.”
A full schedule of various sporting events for Plattsburgh’s spring teams can be found at gocardinalsports.com.
The Plattsburgh women’s lacrosse team is set to kick off competition on March 20 when the Cardinals host Cortland.
“We are so excited,” Plattsburgh women’s lacrosse coach Julie Decker said. “We are thrilled for this news. Last season was such an awesome start. We are hungry to get back out there and compete against someone else other than us.”
In just their second season in program history, the Cardinals came out firing and started the 2020 season 4-0 before their year was cut short due to the pandemic.
Now, Plattsburgh is back out practicing and getting ready for a highly anticipated season.
“It’s been great just kind of working on the fundamentals,” Decker said. “We’re still in no contact and in small groups. We are running them through stick work, shooting, conditioning and really just preparing to get us into team practices. Once we get into full team, we want to be competing head-to-head and working on those inter-squad scrimmages getting fully prepared for games as well.”
In addition to making East and West divisions in the SUNYAC to cut down on travel and limit overnight stays, several other protocols have been established for this spring season to run during a pandemic.
Masks are to be worn at all times by athletes, coaches and officials except for athletes during competition or active practice, and no spectators will be allowed at any sporting events at this time.
Regular weekly testing and COVID symptom checks prior to competition are required, and prior to road games, athletes will be tested within three days of departure.
During travel, there will be no eating permitted on buses, and masks are to be worn during all travel. Bus capacity will also be reduced to 50 percent.
Handshakes or group celebrations as well as pre- or post-interaction scenarios with opposing teams are not permitted.
“This is an awesome day, and I know every student-athlete will do everything they have to do to get an opportunity to compete,” Plattsburgh baseball coach Kris Doorey said.
“For the coaches in the spring sports, we have been waiting since last March to get this opportunity. We are very excited, I know everybody is ready and we appreciate all the work everyone has done to make this opportunity for us.”
So much was unknown as to how COVID-19 could impact athletics, which caused the various postponements and cancellations throughout the past year.
Now with much more testing available as well as a better knowledge of how collegiate sports can operate during a pandemic, SUNYAC decision makers believe it is safe to have a spring sports season.
“One of the key points we have talked about as athletic directors is we have made tremendous advances in testing between the fall when this was uncharted territory to where we are now in the spring,” Howard said.
“We are testing every Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday. Everybody on campus is testing weekly. Our student-athletes will be tested regularly. We have that set up. We are also looking at ways that we may have to test in addition to that if we have a weekend game and want to test our athletes again. We are just in a much better place at this point than we were in the fall or heading into the winter in regard to testing.”
If there were to be a positive COVID-19 case detected through testing, a team would enter protocols established by the SUNYAC.
Howard said there could be a scenario where one team, if it has a COVID-19 case detected, is put on pause while the remaining teams can still operate without restrictions.
Any potential shutdown of all athletic programs, Howard said, would be institutionally or county driven if cases surpass an established threshold by the local health department, which in this case is Clinton County.
For the student-athletes
When all is said and done, all the planning and coordination involved in making this spring season a reality is for student-athletes.
This past year has caused great difficulty for them in many capacities, including physical as well as mental health.
“I have never been told no that I can’t play,” Plattsburgh baseball player Erik Matz said. “Give or take about a year ago, it was a big shell shock to not only me, not only my team but (everyone) that we were not able to play.
“Now that we found out the news (Tuesday), it’s really awesome that we can actually get in a season and fulfill that drive.”
At this time there is also the potential for a conference postseason, which will be a welcomed opportunity and extra incentive for student-athletes to compete.
Even by hypothetically taking away the option of a postseason, the drive from all Plattsburgh student-athletes is very apparent.
“On behalf of the student-athlete body, I can confidently say this past year has made us stronger than ever before,” Plattsburgh women’s track athlete Aislyn McDonough said. “With a much deeper understanding of how privileged we are to do what we love, and just how temporary life can be, no moment will be taken for granted from this point forward.”
“This really is a privilege that we get to come here and do this every day. It’s definitely refreshing because we have a totally new perspective on what we get to do here.”
“It will be a great new mindset for all athletes to keep moving forward.”