Photos | Spring Hill College. XC photos from 2019 SIAC Championships: Women – 1st. Men – Runner-Up. Men’s golf from 2020 Badger Invitational @ Magnolia Grove. VB stock from 2017.
Many sports fans were barely aware of COVID-19 in March of this year. Then, in an instant, college athletics were shut down by the novel coronavirus.
No Final Four. No College World Series. All spring sports were affected.
Now hopes of returning to some form of normalcy as students prepare for the fall semester are beginning to fade. Several conferences have already announced plans to totally postpone all activities or, at a minimum, eliminate some games.
The three colleges in Mobile County are not immune to these problems. Here is a glance at the current status.
Spring Hill College
On Thursday, July 9, the Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (SIAC) announced it would suspend all Fall 2020 sports and championships because of the pandemic. Several of the Spring Hill College (SHC) programs were directly affected.
SHC is a NCAA Division II member of the SIAC in the fall season sports of women’s court volleyball, men’s and women’s cross country, and men’s golf.
School officials said winter and spring sports schedules are not affected by this announcement, nor are the enhanced club sports of men’s and women’s bowling and eSports. They added SHC is not ready at this time to make a final decision on its entire fall sports schedules.
“As an affiliate member of the Gulf South Conference (GSC) for men’s and women’s soccer and women’s golf, we will also continue to evaluate the ability to compete in those sports this fall,” Joe Niland, athletic director for SHC, said in a news release.
GSC has yet to make an announcement on fall sports competition.
“We will have to evaluate,” Dr. E. Joseph Lee II, president of SHC, said in the news release. “We are allowed to play. We can even play conference opponents in the SIAC, but nothing will be sanctioned. We will wait to see the GSC mandate before making any final decisions on fall sports.”
The official announcement from SIAC stated: “The decision was primarily predicated on the overarching concern shared by all SIAC member institutions with regard to the health and safety of our student-athletes, coaches, students, staff, fans and other campus stakeholders. When the initial decision was made by the SIAC to suspend intercollegiate athletics last spring, the conference harbored a measure of cautious optimism in the hope that meaningful progress would occur in connection with the continued spread of coronavirus.”
The optimism did not bear out. The SIAC officials said as COVID-19 infections surge throughout the country, it would be difficult to fairly and responsibly conclude “meaningful progress” has been made at this time.
University of Mobile
No similar plans for suspending the fall season have been announced by the Southern States Athletic Conference (SSAC).
“As far as my knowledge goes, there has been zero talk of the SSAC shutting down fall sports,” David Haney, sports information director for the University of Mobile (UM), said. He added the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) has also released a statement about playing this fall.
In that announcement, NAIA shared its preliminary Fall 2020 Guidelines and Recommendations with members July 1. The guidelines included information regarding health and safety protocols, screening, testing and parameters for returning to play.
NAIA said these recommendations had been developed based on the information available at the time, while prioritizing the health and safety of its student-athletes. The NAIA will continue to assess these protocols as best practices evolve and will share any necessary adjustments by early August.
UM classes are set to begin August 17. However, numerous other changes have been made to the school calendar to ensure most students will be off campus at a time when increased cases of COVID-19 might appear.
“As always, we are acting with an abundance of caution with the health and safety of our students and employees as our main concern,” Dr. Lonnie Burnett, president at UM, said.
University of South Alabama
The biggest news last week occurred among NCAA Division I schools. On July 8, the Ivy League cancelled all athletic competitions for the fall semester. The next day, the Big Ten announced it would cut non-conference games from the schedules of its 14 member schools for the 2020 football season.
Brian Fremund, associate athletic director for communications and digital media at the University of South Alabama (USA), said there has been no official statement regarding the Sun Belt Conference. However, he told Lagniappe as far as he was aware, the Sun Belt is proceeding with the hope of playing a full schedule until it announces otherwise.
Dr. Joel Erdmann, director of athletics at USA, provided an open letter to the “Jag Nation” June 25 that states an intention to play this fall. It reads as follows:
“This is a brief update on our status concerning the pandemic: During the week of June 8, 75 football student-athletes returned to campus for voluntary strength and conditioning workouts. This week, the remaining 45 football student-athletes have also returned accompanied by several men’s and women’s basketball student-athletes. We anticipate a number of volleyball and soccer student-athletes returning soon after July 4.
“Be assured that all health and safety precautions as recommended by the NCAA and Sun Belt Conference are being enacted concerning the team’s return to campus. This includes testing, daily screening, grouping/distancing strategies and rigorous cleaning/sterilization protocols. Our intent is to play our fall seasons as scheduled.”
Erdmann continued to list selected game-day enhancements that may be instituted. His full letter can be found at usajaguars.com. The first USA football contest is planned for Sept. 5 at the University of Southern Mississippi. The inaugural game at the on-campus Hancock Whitney Stadium is set for Sept. 12 against Grambling.
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