By Drew Wemple
Men’s and women’s basketball, hockey and indoor track and field will not be returning to SUNY Plattsburgh, or any SUNY, this season. The State Universities of New York Athletic Conference made the decision to cancel the winter sports seasons due to the coronavirus pandemic.
“This was not an easy decision, and I empathize with all of our student athletes across the SUNYAC,” Erik Bitterbaum, the chair of the SUNYAC presidents, said in a statement Oct. 19. “However, despite our best efforts to plan for a winter season, our priority must be the health and safety of everyone involved with intercollegiate athletics and our campuses as a whole.”
Prior to the decision, the 10 SUNYAC conference college’s athletic directors were meeting weekly to discuss any possible safe course of action to carry out the winter seasons. A proposed eight-game, conference only schedule that was slated to start in February was an option on the table opposed to canceling the season. Yet the presidents and athletic departments of SUNYAC found it would be insurmountable.
“In order to play such a schedule, we would’ve had to have already started practicing this fall and bring students back to campus early in January,” SUNY Plattsburgh Athletic Director Mike Howard said. “It just became apparent as time went on we weren’t going to be able to pull that off in a safe manner.”
SUNYAC joins the North Coast Athletic Conference and the New England Small College Athletic Conference as the most recent Division-III athletic conferences to cancel their winter seasons. The fall athletic season at SUNY Plattsburgh had also been recently postponed until further notice by President Alexander Enyedi Oct. 14. However, the NCAA has administered a policy giving all student athletes who experience a canceled season an extra year of athletic eligibility. But that’s a decision those individuals will have to make.
“A lot of athletes aren’t going to want to pay for another full year of school just to play in their particular season,” sophomore hockey player Joseph Kile said. “And if they do, they could be taking away playing time from other athletes that have waited their turn.”
Kile is a part of the growing group that is voicing their opinions on SUNYAC’s latest decision. The forward from Troy, Michigan, wrote and published an article on Medium.com titled “Dear SUNYAC,” in which he discusses his displeasure with the winter season’s cancellation. Kile draws upon his and his teammate’s own thoughts and feelings to deliver a strong message about the negative effects this decision will have on student athletes.
“I was seeing a lot of SUNYAC athletes on Twitter and Instagram talking about [SUNYAC’s decision],” Kile said. “It was just going to drive me crazy if I didn’t get my own thoughts down on paper.”
Kile, like most winter athletes, found out that morning from his coach that the decision had been made to cancel the season. Head Coach Steve Moffat called to inform his hockey team via Zoom.
“He wanted us to hear it from him,” Kile said.
The winter athletics coaches across SUNY Plattsburgh all had to perform the difficult task of informing their athletes their season had been canceled. Head men’s basketball coach Michael Blaine called his team directly after the news was broken to him by Howard.
“We had a team meeting on Zoom that morning,” Blaine said. “I want to keep what was said between me and my guys.”
Blaine also found himself surprised by SUNYAC’s decision.
“I was hopeful, but I understood the concerns about traveling campus to campus and opening students up to increased exposure,” Blaine said. “But Howard had continued to advocate why it was important to go forward with the season.”
Blaine claimed that Howard was one of the key proponents of going forward with any sort of winter season.
“I wanted to make sure we exhausted every possibility before we pulled the plug,” Howard said. “We owed it to our athletes.”