As of Friday, July 31, Drew University has postponed all in-conference sports contests for the fall semester. The decision came following a unanimous vote by the Landmark Conference Executive Board to postpone all contests within the conference for all schools. In terms of New Jersey colleges, only Seton Hall and Rutgers still plan to go forward with their fall sports programs and will play in-conference games only.
CBS News reported that the coronavirus cases have hit 180,000 within New Jersey since March and just over 14,000 deaths have been recorded in the state. Though it seemed the trajectory of new cases was trending downwards, the report from last Thursday also stated that there had been an uptick of more than 2,000 new cases over a four-day period.
Keith Sargeant of NJ.com reported that the Rutgers football team has had 28 players test positive for COVID-19 as of this Monday. Those tests only include players, with Sargeant adding that an unconfirmed number of staff members have also tested positive for the virus. As a result, Big Ten Commissioner Kevin Warren postponed the release date for the revised conference schedule ahead of the conference's football season.
No players or staff members have been reported to test positive for COVID-19 within the 11 Big East Conference schools, but player safety is still a major concern for athletic directors and conference executives. Seton Hall’s Director of Athletics Bryan Felt has been on near daily conference calls with the NCAA and Seton Hall administrators to discuss updates on the virus and protocols to follow should fall sports go as planned within the revised in-conference schedules.
“We’re looking at it pretty collectively within the conference,” Felt said. “I think we all agreed that non-conference schedule didn’t make a lot of sense because we didn’t feel that it would give us the safest path forward. [The conference schedule] gave us our best possible chance to compete in the fall if we were to compete at all. We’re monitoring [the virus] daily and we’re hopeful we’ll have a fall season, but we just don’t know for sure.”
The men’s basketball team recently returned to training and Felt ensured players who arrived from other states have followed all quarantine-related travel advisories upon arrival. Players have limited their interactions through social distancing outside of training and stuck to their daily training routines and regular schedules effectively within their respective dorm buildings. Ora Manor – an off-campus housing building – has been reallocated as a designated quarantine building for any Seton Hall students living within campus residents’ halls that test positive for COVID-19.
Though most student-athletes would be returning around this time on a regular schedule, the postponement of conference games has pushed their anticipated arrival date towards the end of August. Felt said all student-athletes preparing for fall sports will be back on campus at the same time as the general on-campus population at Seton Hall.
Once on-campus workouts begin for fall sports, all athletes and teams will be required to adhere to social distancing requirements. Signs and rules have been posted all throughout the Richie Regan Recreation and Athletic Center to ensure those who enter the building are aware of how tightly run the department will be regarding the spread of the virus.
“We’re getting results within a couple days,” Felt said. “If we are able to have fall sports, the goal is to have testing and results arrive in a more frequent manner. But the situation is still so fluid and we’re still trying to learn how it will all work best. All of this could change at any given moment.”
With more conferences and schools opting to postpone fall sports for the year, – most notably the Ivy League and Atlantic 10 Conference – the idea of having fall sports anywhere is dwindling from even the most hopeful fan’s imagination. No positive tests have popped up within the Big East schools as of now, but it only seems like a matter of when rather than if. The big question then is how well the conference's protocols help mitigate the chances of someone spreading the virus should they test positive.
Justin Sousa can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Find him on Twitter @JustinSousa99.