ALBANY – For UAlbany athletics, the hope is to have a super-busy spring semester.
In conjunction with the America East Conference and Colonial Athletic Association in which it competes, UAlbany announced Friday it had postponed all fall sports competitions with the intention to have those affected sports programs compete during the spring semester of the 2020-21 academic year, due to concerns related to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We feel,” UAlbany athletic director Mark Benson said during a conference call with reporters, “like it’s the right decision to make.”
Most of UAlbany’s teams play in the America East. That league plans to shift its fall sports — such as soccer — to the spring. Winter sports that start during the fall semester, such as basketball, are currently scheduled to start their seasons as previously planned, but Benson confirmed that no on-campus summer workouts will take place for either of the Great Danes’ basketball programs.
For football, CAA programs were able to decide if they want to try to play an independent schedule this fall. Benson, though, said the Great Danes did not entertain the idea of trying to play football on its own this fall, and instead will plan for a spring semester that includes head coach Greg Gattuso’s squad playing games.
“We made this decision on a broad basis for all of our sports,” Benson said.
“We believe that we’re going to play football,” Gattuso said of the 2020-21 academic year.
The coach, whose program finished 9-5 last season and won its first-ever FCS postseason game, added: “As soon as we’re allowed, we’ll be ready to go.”
Increasingly, conferences and schools across the country find themselves delaying, postponing or canceling fall athletics as the coronavirus pandemic continues. That’s left many trying to figure out what comes next, including athletic departments that now need to figure out how to conduct traditional fall sports during the spring semester when the traditional spring sports are still scheduled to take place. At UAlbany, that could mean a logjam at Tom & Mary Casey Stadium where the school’s football, lacrosse and soccer programs all play, but there will also need to be decisions made on how to make sure facilities, such as training rooms, are able to be adequately shared.
“We’re just going to have to all work together to see what that looks like,” Benson said. “There’s a lot of details we need to work on.”
Some football athletes have been participating in voluntary workouts at the school. In general, though, Benson said fall athletes won’t return to campus until classes are starting.
Gattuso described his players as “devastated” by Friday’s announcement, but also that his coaching staff had been preparing the Great Danes for the possibility of no games this fall for the last month. Gattuso said he had his coaches reaching out to individual players Friday with a simple message: “Let’s be smart. Let’s be safe.”
“The most important thing now,” Gattuso said, “is to stay healthy.”
“The past few weeks have been unquestionably difficult in working our way through the process that led us to this outcome,” UAlbany president Havidán Rodríguez, the America East Board of Presidents Chair, said in a statement first released through the conference. “However, this proactive decision by our members to postpone fall sport athletics competition for the duration of the first semester is in the best interest of all America East student-athletes, athletics departments and university communities. Right now, it is imperative that each of our institutions can safely reopen to their broader campus communities and this decision supports those efforts. We have always maintained that the health, safety and well-being of everyone within our conference, especially our student-athletes, is paramount. Unfortunately, given the current persistence, restrictions and uncertainty associated with the COVID-19 pandemic, it is clear to us now that this difficult, but responsible decision must be made.”
What does a football season look like in the spring? Gattuso didn’t know that Friday, but the alternative of finding out to not playing at all during the school year was preferable to him.
“It’ll be different in many ways,” Gattuso said, “but football is football.”
Benson said the America East and UAlbany will go through the “same process” as they just completed to determine what, if any, modifications need to be made to the basketball season. Benson said there is no firm timeline for the league and school to decide on changes to its basketball season.
“We’ll make the appropriate decision at the appropriate time,” Benson said.