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Ivy League Cancels Winter Sports

Fall sports cancelled outright after previously being postponed to Spring
Published: Nov. 13, 2020 at 7:55 PM EST
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BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) - Back in March, the Ivy League was the first major sporting organization in North America to pull the plug in response to the Coronavirus. Everyone else followed suit, and it was middle to late Summer before we saw athletes taking the field, court, or ice again. But the Ivy League still hasn’t resumed play, and on Thursday night, the conference confirmed they won’t any time soon.

The Ivy League has announced there will be no Winter sports in the 2020-21 school year, with competition at the eight member institutions put on hold until at least the end of February. One of those 8 institutions is in our area: Dartmouth. In all, Dartmouth will see nine sports seasons cancelled this Winter, including men’s and women’s basketball and hockey, as well as skiing. In addition, the Fall sports seasons which were initially postponed with hopes of playing in the Spring have been cancelled outright. It’s a bitter pill to swallow, but given the rising COVID case counts nationwide, Dartmouth athletic director Harry Sheehy is confident it’s the right decision.

“The DNA in the human race is to always hold out a little bit of hope and so you always hold out a little bit of hope but this was not shocking in the least," Sheehy said. "It’ll be interesting to see what the rest of the country does. It was a decision that was just based on the health and safety of the student athletes. You look around and you know LSU’s not playing Alabama this weekend, other SEC games are not happening this weekend. Cal Northridge’s women’s basketball team has opted out of the season. I told one of our staff members this morning it’s a little bit like having a parent who is ill for years and then they pass away. Well they’ve been ill for years and you expect it, but when they pass away, it’s still a gut punch. I think that’s certainly not a perfect analogy but it’s an analogy that works.”

The Big Green men’s basketball program was one of a number of Winter teams that was able to complete their 2019-20 season, so they’re not getting hit on both ends of this. But after posting their best season in five years last year, Dartmouth was hoping to take another step forward this Winter. Now that that won’t happen, head coach David McLaughlin says it will be a challenge for his team and staff to prepare for next year, but one they are ready for.

“During Winter term, you know, guys have to continue to attack it," McLaughlin said. "The goal is for me as a head coach, I have to become a better head coach coming out of this. Our staff has to become a more cohesive and better staff coming out of this. And our players, we have to have a better team culture, we have to be more together, and they have to be better individually coming out of this, and we have to set that foundation for the 2021-22 season.”

To make up for the already lost and potentially cut short seasons, the NCAA has already announced that Fall and Winter athletes will not lose a year of eligibility regardless of how many games they compete in this year. Now that’s all well and good, but the Ivy League has a unique problem the NCAA can’t solve. Conference rules prohibit graduate students from participating in intercollegiate athletics, so even if a student athlete wanted to return for an extra year, they might not be able to. That’s just another complication for the Big Green.

“You do have to support them with whatever support we have," McLaughlin said. "Whether that’s through our compliance office or our academic affairs office, we talk about the Q and As when it comes to eligibility and next steps. And you’re absolutely right, you cannot be a graduate student and play in the Ivy League. Are there ways to change your academic plans to make them a little more flexible so that you could have some more time at an institution like Dartmouth? Potentially, but like I said, every plan is individualized, every person it’s a different conversation. But absolutely especially with all of our upperclassmen, we are having that conversation.”

In addition to the cancellation of Fall and Winter sports, the Ivy League announced that Spring sports will be pushed back at least through the end of February 2021. Now those teams already lost almost their full seasons in 2020, and they will now miss at least the first couple weeks of their next season. At Dartmouth, the sports affected include baseball, softball, and men’s and women’s lacrosse. Sheehy says it’s an especially tough break, but there is still some hope that season won’t be canceled entirely.

“I think when the presidents made this decision, they didn’t particularly have a mechanism in mind," Sheehy said. "They simply didn’t want to say no to Spring. You look at it every day, so I saw that we passed the threshold of 2,000 deaths in our country per day. And I think until those things start to improve, the presidents won’t even consider it. Now I do think the wild card out there is the vaccine: the distribution of this vaccine will be the single most important factor in terms of creating any kind of immunity. If we have it and it can get through our population in a timely manner, then in Spring I think we have a chance.”

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