NEW BRITAIN - After a year that saw the Central Connecticut State baseball team come back to win the Northeast Conference Tournament title and its first-ever NCAA Tournament game, the Blue Devils were the overwhelming favorite to win the NEC title again in the preseason poll.
CCSU won’t get that chance.
The NEC officially canceled its spring season, it announced on Friday, due to coronavirus concerns. The decision comes one day after the NCAA already canceled its winter and spring championships, including the Division I men’s and women’s basketball tournaments and the College World Series.
“It’s been a long week,” head coach Charlie Hickey said. “Initially, you’re thinking this was just going to be disruptive, but sooner or later you thought there was going to be a resolution short of canceling the season. I just thought we could wait the three weeks. I didn’t think there was any harm in waiting.”
The NEC had 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. The school had also announced on Tuesday the team’s three-game series at Creighton was canceled. Tuesday’s baseball game against Manhattan in New Britain was also played without fans in attendance.
The Blue Devils were 4-8 through their first 12 games of the season and were set to begin conference play on March 20 against in-state rival Sacred Heart before the cancellations.
“We’re going to try to get tomorrow with some of the older kids and see what happens next,” Hickey said.
Now in his 21st season leading CCSU’s program and 24th overall as a head coach after spending three years at Providence, Hickey has seen plenty in collegiate athletics. He was around when Providence decided to shutter its baseball program and has a career record of 553-493-5, but has never experienced anything quite like what is going on with the coronavirus scare.
“I would say [I haven’t] from the fact that every institution in the country isn’t playing,” Hickey said. “There have been some programs that have been shut down for a year because of some off-field incidents, but nothing to this extent. But when [the NCAA] canceled the basketball tournaments and the impact that has on the economy, you knew the conferences weren’t going to play without a championship at the end of it.”
There’s also the matter of what will happen to the seniors on Hickey’s roster. The Blue Devils currently have seven seniors - Chandler Debrosse, Chris Kanios, Buddy Dewaine, Brandon Fox, Michael Delease, Dave Matthews and Andrew Braun - who will have to decide if they want to return to the program next season or not. 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 still questions about how the scholarship allocation will be played out and how the roster sizes will be affected, especially when it comes to the incoming freshmen as well.
“When you recruit, you expect your seven or eight seniors to move on or get drafted and then you have your 10-12 incoming freshmen,” Hickey said. “But with no one leaving, it means your roster is going to be bigger than the 35 the NCAA limits us to at this time. And then with the older kids supposed to be leaving, you take their scholarships and put that towards the kids coming in. Is it a case of do they want to go to grad school and stay on to play with their extra year or is the real world calling? There are a number of questions the NCAA still has to answer.”
But before CCSU even thinks about that, it still has to process that it won’t get a chance to play for any kind of title and continue to build off the momentum it brought into the season.
“It’s still demoralizing in terms of all the work and effort you put in in the summer and the fall,” Hickey said. “We were just about ready to defend our conference championship and now there’s nothing we can do about that.”
David Glovach can be reached at (860) 801-5085 or firstname.lastname@example.org