LOUDONVILLE – One by one, Siena College coaches and student-athletes walked up to the podium at the Alumni Recreation Center on Friday to deliver remarks on the sudden end to their respective seasons.
The news that there will be no conclusion to the MAAC men’s and women’s basketball tournaments in Atlantic City as well as no more spring sports taking place was still a shock to those still remaining on the Loudonville campus. Just 24 hours earlier, the MAAC announced that the conference was canceling athletic competition for the remainder of the academic year as part of the continued measures to combat the spread of COVID-19.
The ending was especially hard for the Siena men’s basketball team that was enjoying one of its best seasons in years, winning the regular season MAAC title and needing just two more wins to earn an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament. The Saints finished at 20-10.
“When it’s all said and done, you know, it’s all for the greater good,” said Siena men's basketball head coach Carmen Maciariello. “This is a real-world situation. People are dying and you have to be mindful of that.”
'On the brink of doing something extraordinary'
Maciariello said the team got together one last time for dinner on Thursday night in Atlantic City before heading back to the Siena campus. The team shared stories and reflected on what was a great 2019-20 season.
“I wouldn’t trade this opportunity for anything in the world and to do it with this group of guys, to win 20 games in the first season, bring back a regular season title and to have over 7,000 fans a game, there are a lot of positives,” Maciariello said. “You can always look at it as a teaching moment. Our guys truly love each other and I think that’s the toughest thing. We had won 10 straight games and I truly believe we were on the brink of doing something extraordinary. As a first-time head coach and to have these guys believe in me, just makes it hard.”
Siena captain Elijah Burns, a graduate transfer who played in two NCAA Tournaments while at Notre Dame, said he was disappointed that his teammates did not get the chance to experience the thrill of March Madness.
“We’re just trying to make sense out of all this,” said Burns, a Troy native. “Having been to the NCAA Tournament twice, I just wanted the guys to experience the atmosphere. I feel bad for them. I really don’t have many words to describe how this year went. One thing I can say is that it was amazing. You know, being able to have the opportunity to come home and play in front of my friends and family was truly remarkable. “
Siena College vice president and director of athletics John D’Argenio said there wasn’t much debate when it came to deciding what direction the league should take.
“It just became really apparent that you know, we all have a role to play in terms of being a good citizen and doing what we can to help contain the spread of anything that might happen,” D’Argenio said. “So that’s really where we came down on it.
“The NCAA is a membership organization, and the decisions they make are really driven by membership,” D’Argenio said. “It’s not like Adam Silver in the NBA, who can talk to a handful of owners and make a decision. The NCAA is doing what their membership wants them to do. We were also supposed to host the NCAA Tournament, so that’s a blow.”
Siena was scheduled to host the first two rounds of the NCAA Tournament at the Times Union Center on March 19 and 21. Times Union Center general manager Bob Belber said on Friday that he is hoping the venues slated to host the this year’s NCAA Tournament games get priority for 2023, the first year with available bids.
Arena sets sights on 2023
“They have a lot that they are dealing with now, but I am sure they will consider all of the consequences caused by the cancellation this year in our market and others,” Belber said. “We are in communication with the NCAA wrapping up issues for this year, but we also have asked whether it might be possible for the host facilities and markets that would have presented the games this year could be considered to host the NCAA games in 2023. I am disappointed with the cancellation like everyone else, but it was the right thing to do. The countrywide fight towards this virus is unprecedented and hopefully it will cease existing soon.”
Siena wasn’t the only local Division I athletic program to be put on the sidelines for the spring. UAlbany will not have spring sports after the America East delivered the decision that the entire league will cancel all sports competitions and organized practices for all teams and individual student-athletes for the rest of the academic year, including any spring sport events that occur beyond the academic year. Also, the UAlbany football team was scheduled to start spring practice on March 28 and conclude with the annual spring game on April 26. That, of course, won’t happen now.
In Division II, the Northeast-10 Council of Presidents, of which The College of Saint Rose is a member, determined that NE10 spring sports competition will be suspended until April 13. In Division III, the Liberty League announced on Friday that all intercollegiate events have been canceled for the remainder of the 2019-20 school year. Local colleges that compete in the Liberty League are Union, RPI and Skidmore.
“Pursuant to the decision by the NCAA on Thursday to cancel the remainder of its winter and spring championships due to the evolving COVID-19 public health threat, the Liberty League Presidents have unanimously agreed to cancel all remaining Liberty League regular-season and championship competition effective immediately,” the league stated in a press release.
Also, the Empire 8 Conference canceled all regular season and conference tournament athletic competition. The Sage Colleges competes in the Empire 8.
With seniors in spring sports unable to take part in their final year of eligibility, some officials are seeking to find a remedy to allow athletes another year of eligibility in 2021.
Extended eligibility for seniors?
On Friday, the NCAA said that the eligibility for spring sports athletes would be appropriate. What it does not say is that the relief has been granted at the moment.
“Council leadership agreed that eligibility relief is appropriate for all Division I student-athletes who participated in spring sports,” the Division I Council Coordination Committee stated in a press release.
Meanwhile, Siena will be aggressive in its pursuit of helping seniors unable to play in their final year of eligibility.
“We’ll be working with the NCAA to help answer those questions and, hopefully, sometime in the next month or so we’ll have a resolution,” D’Argenio said. “As you can imagine, there’s all sorts of implications related to that in terms of roster sizes, scholarship limits, all of those things because we are planning for student-athletes to come in the next year.”
As for the current crop of spring sports teams, Siena men’s lacrosse head coach Liam Gleason informed his squad of the season-ending news after a Thursday afternoon conference call. The team had practiced earlier in the day and was preparing for Saturday’s MAAC opener at home against Monmouth. The Saints were 2-4 in six non-league matches.
“It’s a tough situation,” Gleason said. “I’m just making sure our guys are staying on top of their academics as they transfer to take online courses. Lacrosse is over, but their academics and semester aren’t over. We have to focus on our academics and handle things that are in our control and continue to plan for the future.”
Siena women’s lacrosse head coach Abigail Rehfuss informed her team that the season was over on Thursday as well. The Saints, coming off a 20-10 loss to UAlbany on Wednesday, went out for a final team dinner on Thursday evening.
“You know, as a coach, you never dream you’re gonna have to tell your team that their season can be over,” Rehfuss said. “I would say it’s probably the most difficult thing I’ve ever had to do as a coach. You know, I’ve ended some seasons in my career with overtime losses, but got to complete my season and go to the end. To not have a shot to finish your season is difficult.”