ALBANY — Just more than two weeks until Division I college basketball teams are able to start playing games, UAlbany’s teams are unable to practice.
“No matter how you spin it, these are just tough times,” men’s basketball head coach Will Brown said Monday in a phone interview. “Different times. Nothing like anything any of us have experienced.”
As part of the university’s shift to remote learning for the rest of the fall semester following a “significant spike” in COVID-19 cases, a move that was announced Monday, all of the school’s athletic activities are suspended.
“No practices, no strength and conditioning, no team meetings — at least in person,” UAlbany athletic director Mark Benson said. “No activity. Nothing in person.”
While the women’s basketball team practiced Monday, activities for the UAlbany’s men’s basketball team were suspended last week because “an individual associated with the men’s team was part of a pool of tests that came back presumptively positive for COVID-19 during routine pooled surveillance testing.”
Earlier this year, all sports contests for UAlbany fall teams were postponed until next spring because of concerns related to the pandemic. Formal offseason workouts were originally scheduled to start for all sports on Aug. 31, but UAlbany delayed that start a week because of concern over large off-campus gatherings that occurred during the final weekend of August. After each of the school’s athletic programs started activities on Sept. 7, UAlbany shut down all athletic activity on Sept. 11 because of a “very concerning spike” in COVID-19 cases among students, including “clusters . . . identified within athletics and in off-campus student housing.”
The pause that started on Sept. 11 lasted for 24 days, and the Great Danes start a new one Tuesday when the university’s “PAUSE” goes into effect.
“We’ve come to the right decision,” Benson said. “I feel disappointed for our student-athletes, that they continue to have these starts and stops of their athletic activities, but this is the environment we’re living in right now. It’s out of our control, but I feel badly for them that they’re not able to compete, not able to practice, and that they’ve had numerous starts and stops — but I also look forward to when we can get back to practices and competitions.”
The decision to shift to remote learning followed surge testing that started Friday. From those 3,400 samples, 3.3% were positive, officials said.
UAlbany’s last day of classes is Nov. 24, and final exams run from Nov. 30 to Dec. 7. As of Monday evening, it was unclear the minimum length of time that athletic-related activities need to be shut down.
“We’re just going to continue to evaluate the situation,” said Benson, who said “the fairest way to put it” is that UAlbany’s athletics are “suspended indefinitely.”
Both Brown and Mullen said they held Zoom meetings with their teams Monday following the university’s announcement.
“It’s OK to be frustrated. It’s OK to be nervous. It’s OK to be worried,” Mullen said of her message to her team. “All those things are normal to feel and they’re OK — but we also have a choice in how we move forward from it.”
The UAlbany men only conducted a handful of full-contact practices before their activities were suspended last week. The UAlbany women had more, but nowhere near the number a Division I basketball team usually has before playing a game.
The UAlbany men are scheduled to open their season Nov. 28 vs. Marist, while the women are scheduled to host Central Connecticut on Nov. 29. Independently, Brown and Mullen each offered the same assessment — “I have no idea” — as to if their respective teams will play on those days.
Benson said “it’s going to be challenging” for UAlbany’s basketball teams to be ready to play their currently scheduled season-opening games. Asked if he thinks UAlbany’s teams will play games in December, Benson said he is “cautiously optimistic” that the Great Danes will do that.
“But it all depends on when we can resume activity,” Benson said.