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Student Athletes Respond to COVID-19 Cancellations

On Thursday March 12, the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) cancelled all remaining athletic championships and competitions for the remainder of the spring semester. The decision was echoed on the morning of Friday March 13 by the Midwest Conference, and came during a period of widespread news announcements from universities around the country transitioning to online learning in order to prevent the spread of COVID-19, the novel coronavirus, which has caused a worldwide pandemic. On Saturday March 14 Beloit College announced that it will be moving to online teaching for the remainder of the Spring 2020 semester with classes beginning on March 23.  

The Division I Indoor Track and Field National Championship, which was due to take place on March 13 through 15, was canceled due to the decision from the NCAA, despite all athletes and coaches having already made the trip to Albuquerque, New Mexico. Videos on the Flotrack Instagram account showed student athletes learning of the decision while warming up on the track and moving to the bleachers to console one another. 

“It was all very last minute,” Eva Laun-Smith’21 told the Round Table of the decision to cancel Nationals. Laun-Smith was in Winston-Salem, North Carolina for the Division III Indoor Track and Field Championships for Beloit College, where she qualified for the long jump and 60-meter hurdles, when she learned of the cancellation. At last year’s Indoor Nationals, Laun-Smith took third in the triple jump. “We found out the day before we were set to compete that it was cancelled,” Laun-Smith said. “First we were told [there would be] no spectators, and then they told us no Indoor or Outdoor Nationals and then they said spring season was canceled.” Laun-Smith added that she, “hope[s] sports return in the fall but because of how slow testing is in the U.S. I honestly have no idea.” 

President Trump and the federal government were heavily criticized this week for the lack of tests available for people who displayed symptoms. Trump has since pledged to make millions of tests available by the end of the month. 

As early as the night of Thursday March 13 petitions were circulating online from with over 300,000 signatures to plead for student athletes to receive another year of athletic eligibility from the NCAA. Beloit College student athlete Isaiah Wisdom’21 shared the petition via Facebook, and spoke to the Round Table about his thoughts on the loss of his spring Track season. 

“I feel really sad about the loss of the season,” Wisdom said. “I do understand the need to try to resolve this crisis. But I want the NCAA and, in particular, the Midwest Conference, to guarantee their hard-working athletes a chance to compete again. At the end of the day, we run the races, throw the weight, hit the balls. We, as athletes, only want what’s fair.” 

On Friday March 13 the NCAA released a statement granting eligibility relief for spring athletes after the outcry. The decision will grant another season of athletics for all divisions of the NCAA. However, athletes must be full-time students at a university in order to compete. For the graduating class of 2020 at Beloit, this would mean attending graduate school courses elsewhere in order to compete in athletics. 

“It was kind of wild,” senior Beloit College Track athlete Charles Sandberg’20 told the Round Table on Sunday. “Obviously not what I was expecting, especially with us hosting Conference this year.” Beloit College was previously scheduled to host the 2020 Outdoor Midwest Conference Championships at Strong Stadium. Grinnell College, a member of the Midwest Conference, cancelled its athletics and transitioned to online classes on March 10. 

“I kind of assumed that we weren’t going to continue the season,” Sandburg admitted. “Once other schools started cancelling… like Grinnell.” When asked if he will continue to run outside of college, Sandburg said that he believes he is done but that “my coach is telling me one day I will come out of retirement and race him.” 

The decision came in the wake of the cancellations of international sporting competitions, including the suspension of the 2020 Formula 1 season (originally due to begin Friday, March 13 in Australia) after a McLaren team member tested positive for the virus, the cancelation of National Basketball Association (NBA) games and the March Madness tournament after the positive COVID-19 diagnosis of player Rudy Gobert, and Premier League soccer after a coach and player (from Arsenal and Chelsea respectively) were also diagnosed. The Union of European Football Associations also suspended their Championship League after Juventus player Daniel Rugani was diagnosed with COVID-19. Major League Baseball (MLB) and the National Hockey League (NHL) also suspended or canceled all training and competition until further notice. Many players and team members of those who have been diagnosed have gone into a 14 day self quarantine. A decision concerning the May commencement of the Tokyo Summer Olympic Games has yet to be announced. 

The COVID-19 virus is known to cause flu-like symptoms such as coughing, fever, and body aches. Severe cases can lead to pneumonia which can cause respiratory distress and organ failure among eldery patients and those with underlying medical conditions. As the virus can be spread through respiratory transmission and from touching surfaces, social gatherings such as athletic events have been limited to prevent the spread. 

Many athletic gyms around the country have also closed for a period of several weeks in order to limit unsanitary contact. Young patients are unlikely to get severe symptoms but can still be contagious.

Sources: Newsweek, Sports Illustrated

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