NEW BRITAIN — Central Connecticut State’s spring season is officially over.
One day after the NCAA canceled its Division I men’s and women’s basketball tournaments, along with the remainder of its winter and spring championships due to coronavirus concerns, the Northeast Conference followed the lead of a number of conferences across the country and have decided not to play any sport for the rest of the academic year.
“With the evolving nature of the COVID-19 public health threat and in light of yesterday’s announcement by the NCAA to cancel the remaining NCAA championships, the Northeast Conference presidents convened by conference call this morning and voted to cancel all competition (conference and non-conference) as well as organized and formal practices for all teams on NEC campuses for the remainder of the spring semester,” the NEC said in a press release. “In addition, the NEC has announced a moratorium on all on- and off-campus in-person recruiting activities until further notice.”
The NEC originally suspended conference play until at least March 29, while CCSU took the extra precaution of suspending all of its athletic activities until at least April 7. Following a pair of conference calls between the NEC’s athletic directors earlier in the week and the subsequent recommendations that followed, the 11 school presidents unanimously voted to cancel the spring seasons.
“I think once the NCAA made the decision to not only cancel their winter championships, but also their spring championships, that was really the tipping point for most conferences to say we’re going to shut things down for the spring,” CCSU interim director of athletics Tom Pincince said. “When you consider that you’re playing that spring season for the right to compete for an NCAA championship and that opportunity isn’t there, I think that’s when everyone took a step back and thought, ‘OK, I think this is the best for everyone right now.’”
Baseball, softball, women’s lacrosse and men’s and women’s outdoor track are the CCSU sports teams that will be affected by the cancellations. The women’s track and baseball teams are the defending NEC champions in their respective sports with baseball coming off its best season, with their first-ever win in the NCAA Tournament. There will be no College World Series this year.
“I was surprised they made the decision to cancel it at this stage [of the season],” baseball coach Charlie Hickey said. “Not that I’m an expert on this situation, but I thought we would wait the three weeks and see where we were at.”
“It’s been a crazy 48 hours,” softball coach Breanne Gleason said. “But I think Central and the NEC and the NCAA made the right decision to put health and safety above sports.”
Any kind of fall or winter sports in the midst of offseason workouts have also been put on hold, including the football team’s annual spring game, which would have been an important part in evaluating how the Blue Devils would be filling important holes in their starting lineup, most notably replacing NEC Player of the Year in quarterback Aaron Winchester.
“I’ve had conversations with the coaches,” Pincince said. “There’s disappointment, but I think everyone understands. I think they understand these decisions were made with everyone’s health and safety in mind and this is something that had to be done. It doesn’t take away some of their disappointment and emotion when it comes to it and that’s understandable. But I think everyone knows this was the right move. Yesterday they suspended play for a certain time frame and I thought that was the right move and once the NCAA decided to cancel the spring championships, I thought that was the right move today.”
There are also the questions of what will happen to the spring student-athletes in terms of edibility.
The NCAA announced Friday its council leadership “agreed that eligibility relief is appropriate for all Division I student-athletes who participated in spring sports.” But there are also a number of questions that come with that, especially for the seniors who were set to play their final collegiate seasons as well as the soon-to-be incoming freshmen who have committed and signed with their respective schools.
“The biggest one is if those seniors are going to come back and that scholarship money was allocated elsewhere, how that’s going to be solved whether that’s at the NCAA level or school level because you’re going to have some seniors that are going to definitely want to come back,” Pincince said. “You may have some that decide that they’re not going to.”
“Another thing that will have to be addressed is scholarship limits,” he added. “So you’re only allowed a certain number of scholarships per sport and will there be a one-year exemption from that rule to accommodate those student-athletes. It’s such an extraordinary circumstance that I think you’ll there will some rules and policies put in place for a year you never thought would happen.”
Pincince said the school and the athletic department would support each student-athlete affected by the NCAA and NEC decisions in any way possible and work with them through the entire process if they choose to return to school or not. The athletic department had already reached out to student-athletes as soon as it knew the NEC’s decision to cancel spring sports were final.
“It’s questions that need to get answered. It’s not going to get solved in the next couple of days, but we have the opportunity to discuss those questions and figure the best solution possible,” Pincince said.
And while there is plenty of disappointment, those at CCSU and the NEC believe the right decision was made, even if some other conferences, such as the American, the ACC and SEC, have yet to made a similar call.
“When it comes to health and safety, whether you’re talking about your campus community, your student-athletes, your faculty and staff, your students and the population in general, things get a little bit clearer the more you put those things into perspective,” Pincince said. “Those decisions are difficult because you’re affecting the lives of 18-22 year olds who are going to be emotional about it and again, that’s understandable. But I think we did the right thing.”
David Glovach can be reached at (860) 801-5085 or email@example.com