It will be a winter largely devoid of sports at area junior colleges, as 27 of the 30 SUNY Community Colleges members of the National Junior College Athletic Association — including all four area schools — announced Tuesday the decision to collectively cancel indoor sports that are a “high” risk for the spread of COVID-19 for the winter 2020-21 season.
The decision cancels the men’s and women’s basketball seasons at SUNY Schenectady, Fulton-Montgomery Community College, Hudson Valley Community College and SUNY Adirondack, as well as the season for women’s volleyball, which had already been pushed back from the fall to the winter season by the NJCAA earlier this year.
“I think we were trying to do a whole bunch of different things to try and make this work,” F-MCC athletic director and women’s basketball coach Kevin Jones said in a phone interview. “Moving things back, moving dates back with the hopes that we wouldn’t see this second wave of [coronavirus cases] happening. The region thought it was in the best interest of the student-athletes to cancel this now.”
“You’re seeing it all across the country,” SUNY Schenectady athletic director Dave Gonzalez said in a phone interview. “We as a group, Region 3, have made the same decision.”
Gonzalez said that, had the decision been made to allow winter sports to compete, SUNY Schenectady had planned to participate in women’s basketball this winter after the Royals canceled their 2019-20 season because of a lack of players.
Tuesday’s decision affects all of the NJCAA Division III Region 3 and Region 15 programs, representing most of New York’s upstate and downstate community colleges. Three NJCAA Division II programs in the western part of the state — Jamestown, Erie and Niagara — were not included.
“All of the Division III conferences within the region are all out,” Jones said.
HVCC athletic director Justin Hoyt said that, while disappointing, the decision seemed inevitable given the recent upward trend in coronavirus cases across the state.
“It just didn’t look like it was going in a positive direction this winter,” Hoyt said.
In addition to basketball and volleyball, the men’s and women’s bowling seasons at most of the 27 schools were also canceled, though Hoyt said HVCC is among a handful of programs that is still planning to attempt to compete in bowling this winter through a virtual format where the HVCC teams won’t travel to opposing lanes.
“We’re working on a plan as a region to offer bowling, virtually, for the schools that have indicated they’d like to move forward with bowling,” Hoyt said.
For Jones, in his dual role as an administrator and a coach, not having a season this winter is an especially difficult reality to cope with.
Jones said his F-MCC women’s team was shaping up to have a strong winter, and the Raiders’ men’s program was also excited for its first season under new coach EJ Gallup with a focus on building a roster around local products.
“It’s been about 25 years since I’ve started an academic year not welcoming students to our housing and starting preseason, being involved,” he said. “It’s been really difficult. When you have that interaction with students every day . . . it’s gone from that to basically nothing.”
The only athletic competition held at local junior college campuses this fall was cross country, with the NJCAA moving all of its other traditional fall offerings to the spring. Hoyt said that HVCC allowed outdoor practices for soccer and lacrosse, as well as limited football workouts, during the fall.
“It ended up being a good experience for them,” Hoyt said, “just to be able to get outside and play. The student-athletes really enjoyed the opportunity to be able to do that.”
All three athletic directors said that a decision on how to proceed with both the delayed fall sports and the traditional spring sports is likely to come in January.
The outlook for sports in the spring may be shaped by the availability and distribution of COVID-19 vaccines.
“Who knows what kind of an impact the vaccine is going to have by then,” Gonzalez said. “We’re hopeful for our spring sports, like everyone else is.”
Jones added that trying to fold the canceled winter sports into a spring season along would be a “logistics nightmare.”
“We’d have to keep our gyms open 24 hours a day so we could have practices,” he said. “It’s really difficult.”