East Stroudsburg University’s athletic programs will remain on the sidelines until 2021.
The Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference voted Tuesday to suspend all athletic competitions and championships through the end of the calendar year in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the conference announced Wednesday. That news follows ESU’s Tuesday announcement that the majority of its classes will be held remotely through the fall semester.
As the PSAC assesses the feasibility of shifting all fall sports to the spring, the Warrior student-athletes will not hit the field, court, track, mat or pool for competition until at least Jan. 1, 2021.
Dr. Gary Gray, director of athletics at ESU, confirmed in a Wednesday phone interview that the PSAC has task forces in place to assess the plausibility of completing all sports schedules, either in a full or revised capacity.
"I think it’s very possible, I think it’s very feasible," Gray said. "We’ve been talking about this as a ’what-if’ for a few weeks ... and we have penciled in – and again these are very tentative – a beginning and end date for each of the conference sports. And then we have looked at what would that schedule look like on a weekly basis. We basically probably have games every day of the week. We wouldn’t be home every day, of course, but some sport, we would be doing every day of the week. That’s pretty obvious. But it does fit.
"Now the question would be, again, how close can we get to the maximum allowable games? Is it feasible to do 22 basketball games, or is it more feasible to do 16, 18, whatever and those types of things? Because we also want to allow time for playoffs."
The conference had already determined the number of games per season would take a hit for the 2020-21 school year – football scaled back to a 10-game season from 11, basketball from 26 to 22 and baseball from 50 to 40, for example. Gray expects the spring sports schedule to remain intact, but anticipates fall and winter sports are more likely to be dealt revised schedules.
In all, the 2020 fall seasons of football, men’s and women’s soccer, cross country, field hockey, women’s golf, women’s wrestling and women’s volleyball are on hold.
Additionally, the winter sports of men's and women’s basketball, men’s wrestling, women’s swimming and indoor track and field will all see at the least the beginnings of their seasons affected by Tuesday’s decision.
Stephanie Del Preore, head coach of the Warriors women’s basketball team, noted despite the circumstances that perspective is key.
"It’s tough mentally," Del Preore said Wednesday. "It’s exhausting to keep hearing more and more news. But the biggest thing that we’ve chatted about – and my staff and I, I think, have done a pretty good job of full transparency about everything going on – is the perspective is we’re healthy and we’re doing OK and this is bigger than basketball."
Jimmy Terwilliger, head coach of the Warrior football team and an ESU alum, informed his players upon being briefed Tuesday night.
"It’s obviously a major shot," Terwilliger said Wednesday. "However, we’re not the only ones taking it. Being a former student-athlete at East Stroudsburg University, I have a great understanding of the passion and dedication and sacrifice it takes to excel in intercollegiate athletics, especially at this level. Our players and our coaches who love this sport, it’s tough to be told you’re not going to participate in the fall."
The conversation was difficult, he said, but said he found it important to keep things in perspective as not only all East Stroudsburg athletics are affected in some way but the magnitude of the pandemic.
"The big thing I’m trying to get across to our players is that we all have to take this extremely seriously and we all have to do our part," Terwilliger said. "I know for our younger generation – and I know I’m not that much removed from them – we feel like we have a Superman complex. To us, this is keeping people safe and this is doing our part.
"Though it’s very difficult, we have to do our part to keep people safe and I think that’s the true essence of a Warrior."
Jeff Wilson, head coach of ESU’s men’s basketball program, admitted the news didn’t come as a surprise as conferences around the country have made similar decisions.
"Obviously it’s something you don’t want to see happen," Wilson said. "You feel really bad for your student-athletes. It takes them out of their normal routine. It disrupts a normal career as no fault of theirs. So you feel really bad for them and you try to help them through that, but realistically where we are with this illness, it’s definitely the right decision and one that I fully support and it shows the best interests of our student-athletes."
Still to be determined is how Countable Athletically-Related Activities (CARA) and Volunteer Athletically-Related Activities (VARA) will be impacted by the PSAC’s decision to suspend athletic activities.
Terwilliger said football began its volunteer activities July 1 on campus and player attitudes have been positive through strict guidelines. But those workouts could change or halt depending on what the PSAC decides next.
"I think it’s something that we’re going to have to take a strong look and see how we can build upon it and continue to do it," Terwilliger said, "because we’re going to have 500-plus athletes who are remote learning on campus in the fall and we’re going to have to be able to, as soon as the spring semester (begins), be in able to compete at the Division II level."
With VARA underway, many protocols have already been put in place. However, more questions remain about CARA.
"We don’t have definitive answers on how it affects CARA right now, and that could be a change of how many hours we’re allowed to practice once we are in season," Del Preore said. "Preseason’s usually eight hours. That could change. Regular season’s 20 hours a week. That could change. And also, keep in mind, that’s when classes are a go on campus and when kids are living in dorms. So that’s also going to play a role in CARA and VARA as well."
Gray added a plan for what revised schedules could look like, as well as overall feasibility is due to the PSAC’s Board of Presidents by Aug. 21.