All-American swimmer Kevin Gillooly felt heartbroken when the NCAA shut down college sports in March. Rowan University’s swim team and Gillooly were on the verge of making a huge splash in the sports world by climbing into the top 10 best teams in Division III with a shot at a championship.
“I still remember sitting on the bleachers that day, having a meeting with our coach and watching the administrators walk in and just everyone’s hearts kind of sank,” Gillooly said.
Fast forward to mid-summer and the New Jersey Athletic Conference’s devastating, but anticipated, announcement suspending the fall sports schedule. That sports suspended include football, men’s and women’s soccer, tennis, cross country, field hockey and women’s volleyball.
“What’s going on in college sports is not much different than what’s going on globally. All of us have to adjust to living with COVID-19. Because it’s so contagious, it’s extremely difficult and unlike everyday life where you and I can keep a social distance and wear a mask. If you’re playing volleyball or soccer you can’t wear a mask or stay away from someone else,” said John Giannini, interim director of athletics at Rowan University.
Rowan University, Stockton University, Ramapo College, Montclair State University, Kean University, William Paterson University, Rutgers-Newark, Rutgers-Camden, The College of New Jersey and New Jersey City University all compete in the New Jersey Athletic Conference.
Montclair State says it still plans to hold practices by following Department of Health protocols. Quarantining and contact tracing would follow in the event of a positive case.
“And then, depending on where we are ,we’re going to have to make a decision about whether we can continue or not. Hopefully we won’t get to that point, but we’re prepared if we have to,” said Montclair State University Interim Director of Athletics Rob Chesney.
An on-campus party has the entire Rutgers University football team in quarantine after more than a dozen players tested positive for COVID-19. The school is in the Big Ten conference, which has planned a 10-game schedule and is playing only schools in the conference.
Giannini says big, money-making television contracts allow the Big Ten, other conferences and professional sports teams to compete in the era of COVID.
“Without millions of dollars to keep your student athletes in hotels, and to feed them separately from other students, and to isolate them, and to have constant expensive testing, if you can’t do those things or maybe shouldn’t do those things then it isn’t very safe. But, you got to give people credit, who have the resources to take those precautions, for trying,” he said.
The schools will try to kick the fall sports into the spring, but it all depends on the pandemic.
For now, it’s a sobering, sport-less season for some colleges. Gillooly advises his fellow student athletes to stay positive.
“Use the people around you as a support system because we’re all really going through the same thing,” he said.