SLC cancels athletic competitions amidst COVID-19

Photo caption: SFA's men's basketball team holds up the Southland Conference season championship trophy after its 68-57 win against Sam Houston State University on March 7. The game was the final match of the Lumberjacks' 2019-20 season as their conference tournament and the rest of the NCAA tournaments were canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The season of several of SFA’s athletic teams came to an unexpected end after an announcement was made by the Southland Conference on Saturday “that the league will cancel all spring sports competitions and championship events, effective immediately,” in response to the nationwide urge to prevent the spread of the Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19).

On Wednesday, the SLC had decided to limit the number of attendees to the 2020 Hercules Tires SLC Men’s and Women’s Basketball Tournaments which only allowed teams, game officials, tournament staff, spirit groups, credentialed media and family members to attend the competitions.

“I thought our preparation was great,” Mark Kellogg, head women’s basketball coach, said. “I thought we were ready; thought we were going to win the [tournament]. I thought it was our year. I really did."

            As the Lumberjacks’ and the Ladyjacks’ basketball teams were in Katy preparing for the tournament, coaches received the news on Thursday from SFA’s director of athletics, Ryan Ivey, that the tournament was canceled. The same day, the conference suspended all spring sports seasons until March 30 until a later decision was made to cancel the remaining games and championships.

“We gathered in the center circle like we always do," Kellogg said. "We had to relay that Katy had been canceled. That was really one of the more difficult discussions I’ve ever had as a coach and really because of the reaction from the seniors. It hit them pretty hard and pretty quick that their careers might be over."

He also mentioned how recruiting will be difficult as the NCAA set up a recruiting dead period until April 15 where in-person recruitments and visitations to campuses will not be permitted. The NCAA also included in its statement that its council will continue to discuss eligibility relief for all Division 1 student athletes who participated in spring sports.

            “There is no handbook for what we’re dealing with,” Kyle Keller, head men’s basketball coach, said. “The safety of our student-athletes is first and foremost, and I think that’s what [Ivey] is trying to do to protect our student athletes more than anything else.”

In terms of recruiting for Keller, he said he’s got his team set unless an athlete decides to leave. He said that he’s already got his scholarship athletes and depth in positions from a lot of players on the roster.

As changes are possible at any time, all practices and team activities are suspended until March 30. Ivey mentioned how the athletic department is working to implement a better structured environment for the student athletes that they are used to and succeed the most in.

“Trying to figure out what we can do to help them, especially from an academic standpoint, because the reality of it is the progress towards degree requirements, the eligibility requirements, those things aren’t going away,” Ivey said. “So, those that maybe aren’t used to having classes online, how do we help them navigate that process? How do we make sure that they have the right equipment to manage that process? A lot of those things I think that a lot of times we take for granted; and things that they have while they’re here on campus, they may not have it when they’re back home.”

The Ladyjacks basketball team finished its season 23-6 and with a 16-4 conference record while the Lumberjacks finished 28-3 with a 19-1 conference record. The baseball team

was able to finish its overall season 6-10 and 3-0 in conference play from a series win against Lamar. SFA’s softball team finished 19-4 overall and 3-0 in conference play with a series win against Lamar as well as a non conference win against Texas Southern University on Tuesday.

The track and field teams finished their seasons with a first-place win for the women’s team at the SLC Indoor Championships and a fourth-place finish for the men’s team. SFA’s golf teams were able to compete at 11 invitational competitions.

The Ladyjacks’ tennis team finished 7-7 overall and with a 2-2 conference record. The beach volleyball team finished its inaugural year with an 8-5 overall record after competing in two invitational tournaments and six non conference matches but was not able to start its conference season. The Ladyjacks bowling team competed at nine invitational tournaments before the halt of its season.

“At the end of the day, it’s a game that we play," Keller said. "The great thing about sports is that it brings people together. And, unfortunately, we’ve had sports taken away. That’s the hardest part  we’re going through right now as we’re making sacrifices for the betterment of the world’s health. But it’s just a game, and we’ve got to protect people’s health."

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