Mihalik-Thompson Stadium will be quiet, the beautiful new turf field devoid of football or field hockey games. James Egli Field will not boast two playoff-caliber teams and the Morrow Field House will not hear the squeaks of sneakers on the volleyball court. In fact, Slippery Rock University will not have any sports at all this coming semester.
The Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference’s Board of Directors voted to Tuesday to suspend all mandated athletic events and championships through the fall semester as the COVID-19 pandemic has continued its spread across the country.
In the statement released on Twitter Wednesday, the PSAC also announced that it has undertaken a full review of its ability to shift all fall sports to the spring semester and plans to do so if such a task can be safely undertaken.
“The entire conference has worked hard these last few months to prepare for the return of sports to our campuses beginning this fall,” PSAC Commissioner Steve Murray said in the statement. “However, it has become apparent that the safe conduct of sports under the guidelines of social distancing is untenable for our members. We cannot place our student-athletes at greater risk than the general student body. Despite our planning and collective efforts, it has become clear that we are not able to do so.”
While the suspension looks like the impact is limited to fall sports student-athletes, the suspension carries through the end of Dec. 31, impacting the beginning of winter sports. The PSAC will announce at a later date its plan of action on moving fall sports to the spring and the potential resumption of previously scheduled winter and spring sports.
In addition to later announcements, the PSAC and its member institutions will work together to establish guidelines for each of the 18 schools on individual skill instruction and socially distanced strength and conditioning activities by the end of the summer. Further information on the resumption of winter and spring workouts and practices will be considered later in the year.
With a mix of veteran conference-winning teams (football and women’s soccer) and teams hoping for a fresh start (field hockey), the suspension of all sports is a big blow to an area where college athletics plays such a large role in the community.
Slippery Rock President William Behre expressed his sadness for affected student-athletes in a statement to Rock Athletics but acknowledged that the health and safety of all student-athletes is the number one responsibility. SRU Athletic Director Paul Lueken expressed more of the same.
“We support the decision made by the PSAC Board of Directors, as it was made with the health and safety of our student-athletes in mind,” Lueken said through Rock Athletics. “We understand how much our students and fans wanted to see sports return this fall, but the most important thing is that we protect the health and safety of our student-athletes and our campus community. We appreciate that the league is charting a path towards allowing our fall student-athletes to play their seasons in the spring and we are hopeful that option will work out and all of our student-athletes will get the chance to compete in 2021.”
The PSAC was one of the later conferences to postpone its spring season, but its announcement of a suspension comes before many of the major Division I conferences.
The Ivy League was among the first to cancel athletics in the fall, followed closely by the Division I Patriot League. The PSAC is just the third Division II conference to suspend athletics, following the Central Interscholastic Athletic Association and the Southern Interscholastic Athletic Conference.
Major Power Five conferences have already restricted schedules in regard to the fall season, but those seasons will likely be re-evaluated as more and more conferences announce suspensions.
If nothing else, PSAC student-athletes can find solace in the fact that their seasons aren’t necessarily cancelled, just potentially postponed until the time where athletics can be played safely by all.
“We are committed to giving our student-athletes the chance to compete during this academic year,” Geraldine Jones, President of California University of Pennsylvania and newly elected chair of the PSAC Board of Directors, said in the PSAC’s statement. “Many institutions and conferences are facing the same circumstances as we are, and if it is safe to return to competition, we will work with them and the NCAA to provide our teams with a championship experience during the spring semester. We know this is a huge disappointment for our student-athletes who work so very hard in their sport. This decision was not taken lightly and we feel saddened by having to do so.”
The Rocket will continue to provide updates in regard to the everchanging world of college athletics during the COVID-19 pandemic.