The baseball team stayed on the field, playing Wiffle Ball. The women’s rowing team sat in a hallway at the Koessler Athletic Center, just talking. The softball team silently unpacked their bus, just arriving back from their road trip in North Carolina. On all of the teams, some talked on the phone, while others had last moments with their teammates and coaches.
All of them were coming to terms with their new reality. Their season is over.
On Thursday, the MAAC became the third Division I conference, following the moves made by both the Ivy League and the Patriot League, canceled all spring sports for the rest of the season due to concerns of COVID-19, otherwise known as coronavirus, effective Friday morning. Multiple conferences suspended spring sports until later dates, and all Division I conferences, including the MAAC, ended their conference tournaments in basketball before the decision was made by the NCAA to cancel winter championships, including the men’s and women’s basketball tournaments, as well as hockey. The America East followed suit in canceling spring sports later Thursday afternoon.
“These were difficult conversations,” MAAC commissioner Rich Ensor said at a press conference at the league’s basketball tournament in Atlantic City, N.J., where the remainder of the conference tournament was canceled in the same press conference, minutes before the women’s teams for Quinnipiac and Monmouth were set to take the floor for a quarterfinal game. “We’re all in the business of both protecting our student-athletes, but also providing them the opportunity to succeed and shine at this time of year, so it’s a blow for us all.”
Baseball head coach Matt Mazurek said he got an initial call around 10 a.m. Thursday morning, while he was at the store picking up food for the team’s scheduled trip to Michigan this weekend, and was told that the trip may not happen. He got to the Koessler Athletic Center around noon and said there were rumors of the league’s athletic directors planning to implement a two-week suspension of all spring sports, but that it was not official. The MAAC held a conference call with coaches and administrators at 2 p.m. Thursday and came to the decision to cancel the season, and Mazurek along with all of the other Griffs spring head coaches, along with the entire league, addressed their teams in the minutes following the decision. The MAAC and Ensor made the official public announcement at the press conference, which occurred just after 2:30 p.m.
“There’s so many unanswered questions. You’re talking to a group, as the leader of the group, and you don’t know what to tell them. That’s the hard part because it’s the whole nation now. I’m not the only person doing it. It’s national, that’s the hard thing and I think they’ll see that as time goes, but at the same time, what’s next?” Mazurek said as the team played Wiffle Ball behind him on the field at the Demske Sports Complex. “What are you going to tell these guys, go home? I’m not telling them to leave. They just got told their season is done.”
The men’s lacrosse team was set to play their first conference game on Saturday after an 0-5 start to begin the year, but looking to turn it around.
“It probably hasn’t truly sunk in yet. A lot of feeling for just the unknown right now, we don’t have the answers as to what it means in the long run for everybody pertaining to eligibility so all of the sudden it’s done and taken away, the seniors in particular, my heart goes out to them. You put in all this time, you train for years and years, not only here but before that. Not everyone gets to go out on top but at least you can have an idea and you get a chance going down fighting, and in this case, we don’t get that chance, that one last game. It’s just gone,” head coach Mark Miyashita said.
Women’s lacrosse head coach Allison Daley, who played for the program when she was in college, graduating in 2011, said, “They’ve put a lot of time and effort into our program and making those around them better people and players, leaving their legacy, to be able to not finish it with hopes of a MAAC championship is really disappointing for them, and I feel for them.”
One of those seniors in baseball outfielder Jake Burlingame, who had started 13 of the Griffs’ first 15 games of the season. He was one of eight seniors on the roster this season.
“Do what you love, love what you do. Don’t ever take it for granted, you never know when it’ll be taken away from you. Thank you to my teammates and coaches, I love you all and you have all had an incredible impact on my life,” he said in an Instagram post Thursday.
As for the eligibility of the players affected, especially the combined 44 seniors on the six spring sports rosters, there are still many unanswered questions. Since the teams have begun their seasons, players that have appeared in a game and have not suffered a season-ending injury, which would allow the players to use a redshirt and come back for another season, which by NCAA standards means that they have technically used a season of eligibility. However, since this is what the Canisius athletic department is calling “unprecedented territory,” it is likely that Canisius and the MAAC as a whole will request a blanket waiver for all athletes from all years for each athlete to get back a year of eligibility. The Ivy League is also expected to submit a similar request with the NCAA.
However, that comes with its own challenges as all of these teams have freshmen coming in next year and that would mean rosters would have to be larger that would likely mean that scholarships will be less for all players. It will still be a while before both sides can come to an agreement and creates a real problem for all involved.
“The NCAA won’t say (anything) because they don’t know what the hell is going on,” Mazurek said. “Let’s say you give that redshirt year, now you’ve recruited over the top of them. We’re losing eight, we got 11 coming in. That money is already spent, so what do you do now? Look at high school, they have to have so many days spent in high school. If high schools close, they don’t have 180 days, can those kids get their degree? I don’t know, no one knows. But that’s the hard part here.”
The Canisius athletics statement, which came from athletic director Bill Maher, said, “We are in (an) unprecedented and rapidly-evolving situation as the nation and each of our campuses address this epidemic. The Canisius Athletic Department fully supports measures taken by the MAAC Council to protect the health and welfare of our student-athletes, coaches and staff. I know this is a great disappointment to our student-athletes and coaches, whose hard work and dedication to their sports and Canisius College is appreciated by so many, but this decision was made with the best interests of the MAAC, our campuses and broader community in mind.” Maher was not made available for additional comment.
For now, the coaches and players are going to lean on each other as they come to terms with sports coming to an end on campus for the semester.
“Like anything, we’re going to deal with it as a group, we’re going to support one another, we’re going to look out for one another,” Miyashita said.
“You go through all those emotions, you’re angry, you’re sad. It’s hard and it hasn’t sunk in yet and I think that’s going to take some time. We’re all in this together, we’re all supporting each other and it’s nice that we have people we lean on and people to support through this difficult time,” Daley said. “It was just a tough day.”