Despite some initial planning, fall and winter athletics remain uncertain.
July 1, 2020
In his message to the campus community about the College’s fall plans last Monday, President Clayton Rose announced that fall and winter sports will be cancelled through January 1. However, first years, who will be on campus, will still be allowed to train with coaches and fellow teammates in small group settings.
Rose remains hopeful that, in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, the NCAA and the NESCAC will adjust their rules to allow coaches to work their athletes, whether that would take place on or off campus and during or outside of a given sport’s competitive season.
“[The] NESCAC has not yet determined what will happen with conference play or how coaches in this extraordinary semester may interact with athletes on fall, winter, and spring teams during the fall semester,” Rose wrote in the message. “But I am hopeful that there will be significant opportunities this fall for coaches to work with those athletes who are both on and off campus,”
Ashmead White Director of Athletics Tim Ryan emphasized that coaches and trainers are dedicated to continuing their work remotely with athletes.
“For students off campus, we will continue to provide workouts through our strength and conditioning staff,” said Ryan in a phone interview with the Orient.
While they will have opportunities to engage with their fellow first-year teammates and athletic staff, many first years may not be able to meet their upperclassmen teammates in person this year. Cross country captain Delaney Bullock ’22 said that she and her co-captains plan to use Zoom and other virtual meeting platforms to help first years bond with upperclassmen athletes.
“Luckily, we have set up a lot of the ways that we were going to communicate. We have our team group chats and we have some programming planned,” said Bullock in a phone interview with the Orient. “So we will definitely continue with the programming.”
Swim team captain Alex Burns ’21 said that creating team bonding experiences during the remote half of the spring semester helped captains learn how to make virtual meetings more meaningful.
“Now that we’ve kind of had the experience of how virtual hangouts go without a whole lot of planning, we can approach the same sort of thing in a more regimented, regular and productive way,” said Burns.
However, Angela McKenzie ’23, member of the women’s track and field team, expressed uncertainty about her and her fellow athletes’ ability to have the “meaningful experience” that Rose promised in his letter.
“There was some strange language from Tim Ryan and the president, ‘we want you to keep having a meaningful experience,’” said Bullock, “Well, what does that mean? We’re not racing, and we’re not training with our team. So, I’m not sure how they expect it to be the same.”
McKenzie also expressed concerns about lack of access to resources available on campus.
“I am especially concerned about the lack of access to resources such as trainers, cross training and the watchful eyes of a coach,” said McKenzie in an Orient survey addressing athletics. “Without these integral support systems, it’s nearly impossible to train or exercise at the level that one might have expected to train during an actual competitive season.”
If most students are able to be on campus in the spring, Ryan said that he is optimistic about commencing winter athletics after January 1 and holding fall and spring varsity team competitions in the spring.
“Our hope for winter athletics is that we would be able to participate in conference play in the new year,” said Ryan. “We’re hopeful that if we are back on campus in the spring that we would be able to provide some type of a meaningful athletic experience for our fall teams.”
However, this plan is not set in stone. It depends not only on authorization from Rose but also on permission from the NESCAC.
This uncertainty has prompted discussion among athletes of taking a “redshirt year,” a year wherein an athlete does not compete in any games in order to save a year of eligibility for, essentially, a fifth year of competition.
Director Ryan says that the College will support students and coaches if they decide that this is the best option for a particular athlete. However, in order to take a redshirt year, a student would have to stay enrolled in the College, which makes the decision more complicated.
“It’s less of a NCAA eligibility issue than it is an issue related to the amount of time that they would have at Bowdoin,” said Ryan.
Student athletes at Bowdoin rarely take redshirt years; for the few who have done so in the last decade, the motivating factor had to do with an injury, not with saving a year of eligibility.
Ryan acknowledged athletes’ inevitable disappointment, especially seniors’.
“I have great sympathy for our student athletes, and especially our [rising] seniors who won’t be able to compete this fall.” said Ryan. “I can understand it’s an incredibly disappointing development in their life, and it’s unfortunate that [the virus] has interrupted what I hope has been a great experience for them at Bowdoin otherwise.”
Many athletes are angry, disappointed and frustrated with the College’s decision, but at the same time, many, including swim team captain Mary Laurita ’21, also expressed understanding and acceptance.
“Given the circumstances, Bowdoin is trying to have a smart approach so that they don’t have to backtrack and put students in a position of having an emergency response like they did in the spring,” said Laurita in a phone interview with the Orient.
Still, Bowdoin alumna and former field hockey player Paula Petit-Molina ’20 laments the loss of athletes’ seasons.
“I feel so much for all the athletes that have lost their seasons. Because even though it doesn’t mean you’re losing a part of your identity, it means that you’re losing something you love,” said Petit-Molina in a phone interview with the Orient.
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