By Carlos Rodriguez |
The NCAA Division II Presidents Council announced on Aug. 5 the cancellation of the seven fall 2020 championships due to COVID-19 Pandemic concerns. This decision affects Augusta University’s volleyball and women’s and men’s cross-country teams.
“I think the Division II presidents showed a tremendous amount of leadership in making the decision which is all about the health and safety of our student-athletes and coaches,” said Augusta University athletics director Clint Bryant. “The main thing athletes can do at this time is improve, get better and mature.”
The Division II announcement came a couple hours after the NCAA Division III Presidents Council made the same decision. Division I is the lone NCAA division to yet make a decision on fall sports championships. Some Division I schools and conferences have opted to cancel their fall seasons, including the Ivy League. AU’s golf programs, which play in Division I as a member of the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference, await that decision.
Prior to the NCAA’s announcement, on July 22, the Peach Belt Conference board of directors announced that all fall competition would be delayed until Oct. 1. Volleyball, women’s and men’s cross-country, and women’s and men’s soccer are the PBC sports impacted by this.
“The ability to execute this plan is dependent on our students, employees, and fans demonstrating socially responsible behavior during this public health crisis,” said David Brunk, commissioner of the Peach Belt. “Being able to bide some time, it is our hope that conditions will significantly improve in a few weeks.”
Though there will be no national championship, the PBC is discussing the idea of still having a conference championship for fall sports with a decision coming soon. Prior to the NCAA announcement, Commissioner Brunk mentioned if fall sports were to be cancelled that the PBC already had discussions on alternate plans with the focus of providing a meaningful experience for fall student-athletes.
Both the volleyball and cross-country programs achieved great success on the national stage last season and it’s unfortunate they won’t be able to do that this year.
“Both of our fall sports were in a position that they had an opportunity to repeat as an NCAA-caliber team this year,” said Bryant.
The volleyball team had won its second consecutive PBC tournament title last fall and were in the hunt for a three-peat this season. The team went on to advance all the way to the Southeast Regional Final in the NCAA Division II volleyball tournament. It was the furthest the team has ever made it in program history and finished 29-9 overall.
Just like the volleyball team, the men’s cross-country team had similar success. The men won the PBC conference championship, finished second at the Southeast Regional, and finished ninth at the NCAA Division II national championship in Sacramento, Calif. It was the best finish in program history; the programs previous best finish was 23rd in 2017.
On the women’s side, the team placed third at the conference championships, finished sixth at regionals and had Micah Weathers run individually at the national championship, placing 44, just four spots out of all-America status. Weathers finish is the highest finish in program history.
“The news was definitely disheartening. I know how much each person has put in to prepare,” said head cross-country coach Adam Ward. “Safety is the main concern, but for our student-athletes, competing, especially at the national level, is something they all want to do. I think we could have accomplished something impressive this fall.”
Ward also mentioned the advantage of the sport of running is unique. Running is the most accessible sport and physical activity, unlike some sports that may require a specific facility or competing against others in order to practice.
“My only advice is to focus on the process of staying fit,” said Ward about his advice to his athletes. “Getting out of shape and trying to come back is much harder than maintaining fitness.”
As far as the senior student-athletes the NCAA should be granting them an extra year of eligibility if they choose to pursue it at AU for a fifth year or as a graduate transfer at a different school. Student-athletes who competed in a spring sport this past year were granted an extra year of eligibility because of the pandemic cancelling the season so assuming the NCAA follows suit with that decision, fall student-athletes will have an extra year.
“It’s important for our student-athletes to remain engaged with teammates, coaches and the athletic community during this time,” said Brunk.
Now both cross-country teams and the volleyball team await the decision on whether they’ll still have a chance to compete for a conference championship.
Contact Carlos Rodriguez at firstname.lastname@example.org.