The Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference (PSAC) recently announced the suspension of competition for both fall and winter sports in the conference until at least January of 2021 due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
This huge step, which impacts Red Raider football, field hockey, men’s and women’s basketball and others, could have ramifications well into the future.
Last week, Shippensburg University Athletic Director Jeff Michaels conducted an interview with The News-Chronicle, going more in depth on the PSAC’s decision and the university’s plans moving forward.
What are your thoughts/perspective on the circumstances that led to this decision?
It was a very difficult decision. There has been conversation at the conference level for quite some time as far as how we are going to be able to do this the best way possible to have athletics in the fall. It really has only appeared very strongly in the last several weeks that those challenges were going to be hard to overcome, if not impossible. This decision wasn’t made lightly. There are a lot of conversations from the athletic administrators at the conference level, the presidents at the conference level. You are looking at different ways you can make it work and in the end it just wasn’t feasible at this point. I am very disappointed for our student-athletes and all the student-athletes in the conference. Obviously, we are very focused on the Ship student-athletes and our teams. We are hopeful that, as a country, we will do our best in the next weeks and months to try and mitigate the coronavirus and be able to have all of our teams competing once again after Jan. 1.
What data/info did the PSAC look at to make this decision, and was there any thought of doing what the pros are doing and moving forward without spectators?
As far as playing without spectators, we didn’t really even get to that full conversation. It was discussed, but we were really concerned with getting the student athletes back on campus and their well being if we did that. We would have had our football team back as early as Aug. 7, and the other fall teams Aug. 12.
We are going to try and follow the guidance that has been provided by the governor’s office. The information that had been sent out previously and the numbers such as what size groups you can have. We’ve seen information from the NCAA as far some recommendations previously and we expect there will be some more information shared here in the coming days. All you really need to do is look at some of the articles that are being shared by the CDC. The expectations or guidance to be able to even meet in person and what the limitations are, that was some of the information that was used. The information is changing regularly. Our conversations that we had back in April that moved to May, June and July are always a little bit different. I’ve said repeatedly, every time we felt we answered one question, multiple additional questions came up.
What was the rationale behind suspending both fall and winter sports?
To give a solid starting line to where we are hopeful to resume competition at the start of the second semester. The way sports work at our level is we have a fall season, but the winter sports and the spring sports are all starting to practice just after the time that class begins. This [decision] put into place that we are not going to have activities or competition during the fall semester.
[The PSAC Board of Directors] didn’t want to say ‘we’ll reevaluate in October or November,’ instead we set it up so it would be very clear on where the new start line would be.
What has been the reaction of the athletes and coaches?
We had a department meeting last night [July 14], and we shared the final information. [Shippensburg University head football coach Mark ‘Mac’ Maciejewski] was on there as were the other coaches and personnel in our department. It’s not easy, we’ve seen the feedback from the coaches we’ve had a conversation with last night. Those aren’t easy conversations. They’re talking to student-athletes, and in some cases, that have maybe been planning on graduating in December. The student-athletes are obviously disappointed, this is a disappointing day. We are hopeful and we intend to have all the sports in the spring, but today the focus should be on the challenges we have and the disappointment that the student-athletes have dealt with. We had a really good comment on this last night from one of our spring coaches that made a recommendation to our fall coach about what they should be telling our student-athletes.We are going to do everything that we can as an athletic department and as an institution to help our student-athletes be in the best place possible, whether it’s eligibility questions or academic support questions and the like to make sure that we are helping them with their athletics but also making sure that they are still focused on what they are here for ultimately, which is their education.
How does this decision impact the athletic department’s day-to-day operations?
We are hoping to have either strength and conditioning or small group workouts starting here shortly after the time that students come back here in the fall. They are not full-fledged practices and we’re not having competition, but we are allowing our coaches to work with and support our student-athletes to allow our student-athletes to get back to a level of conditioning that they are used to. This is not an easy day and last night was not an easy conversation. We went through this in the spring, and in the spring, things were closed pretty quickly. There wasn't a whole lot of net there as far as flexibility, it was just over and done and there was no option as far as spring seniors to play out a season. At least as far as what happened in the fall it is our intent to try and get everything back for the spring. While it is disappointing today and we need to show some empathy for our student-athletes, I think in the coming days it’s going to be up to the athletic administrators and our coaches to make sure that we’re moving our programs in the right direction and preparing for what we’ll see athletically in the second semester.
Looking ahead, what will it be like in the spring when you have to schedule all these events, share facilities, etc.?
It is going to be chaos. But I think it can be viewed as a good kind of chaos if there’s such a thing because there are going to be many challenges, but our goal will be to make sure that we are doing everything that we can for our student-athletes. There will be areas like sports information, athletic training and equipment managers who will be taxed very extensively to be able to pull this off, but as a group and the Shippensburg University Athletic Department, we are focused on the experience of the student-athletes and are going to do everything we can to make sure that happens. It will be busy, there’s no question, but we are doing it with the hope of providing a meaningful competition opportunity for our student-athletes.
Will there be postseason competition for all these sports in the spring?
That remains to be seen. Hopefully there will be something in place at the conference level at a minimum. Right now, the NCAA has not made a decision to move its championships away from the fall. I don’t know what will come down the line, but for right now, we don’t have any sort of format in place of what it will look like. That will be decided over the next four to six weeks.