Amid an unprecedented wave of nationwide season suspensions and cancellations in professional and amateur sports, Kenyon College and the North Coast Athletic Conference (NCAC) were two of the latest organizations to terminate their slate of events in response to the threat of the COVID-19 pandemic.
On the afternoon of March 13, the presidents of NCAC member institutions made the decision to cancel spring regular seasons and championships, effective immediately. While the Conference granted discretion to member institutions in terms of “other spring athletically related activity,” Kenyon joined the majority of NCAC institutions in formally canceling its spring sports seasons. Sources believe the remaining institutions will soon cancel their seasons as well.
The NCAC’s decision comes after the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) announced on March 11 that it had made the decision to cancel all winter and spring championships. The NCAA’s decision most immediately affected Kenyon’s men’s and women’s swimming and diving teams, which were set to compete in the NCAA Division III Swimming and Diving National Championships in Greensboro, N.C. on March 18 through 22. The Lords and Ladies nationals qualifying swimmers, who were on campus preparing for nationals, are staging a time trial over March 13 and 14.
Even before the NCAC’s meeting, other NCAC schools had announced that they were planning to cancel their spring sports seasons. DePauw University in Greencastle, Ind. was the first to act, canceling spring athletics on March 11. Oberlin College and Wittenberg University made similar announcements that same day, while Ohio Wesleyan University made the announcement early Friday morning. After an NCAC Presidents meeting, Wabash College and Kenyon College both made their announcements public.
Specifically, the NCAC’s provision that colleges could make decisions about “other spring athletically related activity” meant that colleges could exercise discretion about practices and non-conference matchups. Kenyon’s formal cancellation of its spring sports seasons means that it is foregoing its conference and non-conference matchups but the College leaves open the possibility that teams can carry out practices “if students return to campus in a few weeks.”
Kenyon’s spring sports were in the midst of their early-season schedule when this decision was announced.
The baseball team had just finished up their spring training schedule in Fort Pierce, Fla., where the team finished with a 7-8 record. The Lords ended on a high note, winning three of their last four games. Golf had recently placed fifth in the BSN Sports Dataw Island Invitational in Dataw Island, S.C. The softball team had just returned from their 16-game spring break road trip to Florida, where they had finished with an impressive 12-4 record.
Complete cancellation of all sporting events was not Kenyon’s initial plan. In an email correspondence with Athletic Director Jill McCartney early Friday morning, McCartney wrote that while “changes happen minute-by-minute,” Kenyon’s original plan was to cancel “non-conference games and postponed conference games until the end of March.” This was Kenyon’s stated course of action when President Sean Decatur announced the College’s initial COVID-19 response on Tuesday. By mid-afternoon on Friday, this stance altered dramatically to the position of total cancellation of all spring matchups. Many athletes heard from their coaches before the official announcement, but the College posted an update to the athletics webpage after 5 p.m.
Spring sport student-athletes have had strong reactions to the news. While some recognize the need for Kenyon to cancel its season, many remain frustrated and saddened that they are unable to continue playing the sport they love. Pat Kawakami ’20, senior captain of the Lords golf team, stressed the hard work that athletes have put in leading up to this season, especially seniors.
“It’s incredibly unfortunate—but, that being said, we’re in completely uncharted territory right now. No one really knows what’s gonna happen. No one really knows if this is it, or if we’re going to come back … You know, for all the seniors, spring sports seniors especially, you work the last 15 years of your life for something that will literally not happen … It hurts a lot,” Kawakami said.
However, he emphasized the severity of the situation in comparison to the sports being played.
“That being said, you know, this is obviously more than just a sport. It’s more than swimming. It’s more than baseball. It’s more than golf. It’s more than anything we could do out there,” he said. “And I just hope everyone’s taking the precautions that are needed to have to move on.”
Hannah Haynes ’21, a track athlete, wrote in a message to the Collegian that in a sport where training happens on a year-round cycle, the cancellation is hard on athletes training for events that only take place during the outdoor season.
“Indoor track in my mind has always been a stepping stone to our outdoor season, so it’s really disappointing to feel as though we worked so hard all winter for nothing,” she wrote. “A lot of us had goals going into the outdoor season that were very much within reach.” Just before the break, the women’s track team had placed sixth at the NCAC Indoor Track and Field Championships, including podium finishes by Emma Becker ’22 in the 5000-meter and 3000-meter races.
Other athletes echoed Kawakami and Hayne’s disappointment.
“All the work that we put in in the offseason is all geared toward the season. We set goals for ourselves and work incredibly hard to try and achieve them. To have the season end and eliminate the possibility to achieve what we set out to do is obviously disappointing,” baseball player JJ Conway ’22 said. “Athletes in sports such as lacrosse, baseball and softball wait anxiously for most of the academic year before their season begins, putting in countless hours on the weekends and late at night. Lords and Ladies can’t help but feel their hard work is all for naught.”
Athletes traveling for spring break also faced the added complication of having their travel plans suddenly altered.
For Juliana Delsante ’20, a student-athlete on the softball team which was traveling in Fort Myers, Fla., the season cancellation leaves many logistical questions unanswered.
While teammates of hers who lived in the Midwest were able to stop at Kenyon and get their belongings, Delsante and others were told that their books would be sent to them. Delsante has yet to receive further information on how exactly this process would be completed.
In addition to getting her belongings, after student-athletes found out that they could not return to campus, Delsante also had to figure out how to get home. Teams have been able to assist their players with last-minute travel plans, with the softball team paying for her flight.
While student-athletes across the country pack up their plans for the current season, the NCAA has been discussing efforts to provide seniors whose seasons were cut short with opportunities to compete in the near future.
The NCAA Division III Committee recently put out a statement announcing its decision to provide assistance to schools in compensating students for travel, lodging and meal expenses. The Committee also announced it would grant an additional season of eligibility for those student-athletes who play in the spring semester. All athletes impacted by this decision, then, will hypothetically be able to compete in four full spring seasons, but it is unclear how athletes and institutions will be able to exercise this eligibility. For students at Division III institutions who miss a season due to injury or study abroad, they could potentially use that outstanding eligibility when completing graduate coursework at other Division III institutions.
As of now, the Lords and Ladies are scheduled to resume play in the fall semester, with athletes returning to campus for preseason practices in mid-August.