By Ellen Paddock
BROCKPORT, N.Y. –– SUNY Brockport’s athletic department has been working diligently behind the scenes to safely resume practices and competitions to ensure student-athletes have a positive experience. During the fall and spring semesters, they juggled COVID-19 restrictions coming down from the state, Monroe County, the university’s Emergency Operations Committee (EOC) and the NCAA.
Susan Hoffman, Associate Director of Athletics, said one of the biggest challenges is constantly writing and rewriting rules to accommodate the various COVID-19 policies that change daily.
“Sometimes it looks like the athletic department doesn’t know what its right hand is doing to its left hand, and sometimes that’s true,” Hoffman said. “We make decisions in the morning that have to be changed in the afternoon to accommodate a new rule.”
The athletic department received a directive from SUNY Chancellor Jim Malatras telling them to do everything in their power to resume spring sports this semester. Despite this, practice and competition plans must be approved by Brockport’s EOC, who were apprehensive towards resuming athletics in the fall.
According to Hoffman, the EOC did not approve initial plans for fall practices which proposed dividing teams into pods of starting and non-starting lineups. The EOC told them to limit pods to three players each, and gradually increase the number of players per pod throughout the semester.
“The EOC is diligent at making sure all the T’s are crossed and the I’s are dotted,” Hoffman said.
This spring they have granted athletics more leeway due to success in slowing the spread in the fall. The EOC also realized that the restrictions placed on athletics in the fall were harsher than those enforced on other departments.
Catherine Johnson, a senior on the softball team, believes these harsher restrictions can be attributed to the higher standard that athletes are held to as role models and leaders on campus.
Johnson is thankful for how the athletic department handled the challenges of COVID-19 and how they helped her team get back on the field.
“I feel like they have done a lot, more than some athletics departments have. I think we are really lucky,” Johnson said.
The athletic department has also been working hard to readjust schedules. This spring the SUNYAC will split into an East and West division to limit overnight trips and limit exposure to COVID-19. Hoffman said the split conference helps balance the budget, which faced a 20% cut, by reducing travel expenses.
For Brockport softball, the split conference will cut the amount of games in half and will result in playing each team four times throughout the season.
“We will have 16 games instead of the typical 30 or more, so it’s not going to be as fun to play each team four times, but we are just grateful to be stepping back out onto the field,” Johnson said.
Additionally, the department is tasked with getting student-athletes to comply with COVID-19 policies. Student-athletes must complete a daily symptom tracker and attend weekly testing to remain eligible for practice and competition.
“They need to be responsible citizens,” Hoffman said. “All it takes is one student-athlete to go out to the bars on a Saturday night and bring the virus back to the team.”
Spring competition is set to begin on March 20. Violations of COVID-19 policy will hold even more weight as they could result in cancelling competition and impact entire athletic programs. Students must be responsible to themselves, their teammates and their college.
“This is just a big bump in the road,” Hoffman said. “There are student-athletes and coaches that are struggling, and I have to be their cheerleader.”
Head Volleyball Coach, Steve Pike, said that his coaching philosophy of, “people first, sport second,” has never been more important than during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“COVID-19 made it even more important that we take care of the people first,” Pike said. “There is always going to be adversity, whether it’s a pandemic, or something else. So it’s just a matter of what you want to focus on.”
At this time fall and winter sports are not cleared for competition, but can participate in team lifts and practices if they are masked, divided into pods and maintain social distancing. Despite the uncertainty, Hoffman and the athletic department continue to stay motivated because of their love for Brockport’s student-athletes.