On March 11th, a night seemingly like any other, the Utah Jazz were set to tip off against the Oklahoma City Thunder. The ball didn’t even get in the air, and the games that were supposed to tip off later on didn’t start either. Why? At approximately 9:27 pm, it was reported that Jazz center Rudy Gobert tested positive for COVID-19.
It was the first domino of many to fall, leading to the sports world shutdown we’re in the midst of right now. Only four minutes after his test results went public, the NBA suspended its season until further notice.
The next day, the ATP, MLS, and U.S soccer suspended all matches. The Big Ten, AAC, and SEC were among the first to cancel their men’s basketball conference tournaments. By the end of the day March 12th, all conferences had cancelled their tournaments.
The dominoes fell fast, and they fell hard. Before we knew it, the sports world was put into a standstill. Today, sports competition still remains absent from everyday life. The NCAA cancelled all remaining competitions through the spring.
Senior Madi Christiansen on the Butler softball team said her team got the information on an off day while they were competing in Florida over spring break. She points out that typically she tries to stay off her phone when she’s with family, but this was a different circumstance.
“I just kept on refreshing Twitter,” she said. “I was a bit different than some of my other teammates though. I was on the optimistic side. I knew this couldn’t be how the season ends for such a tight knit group.”
She wasn’t wrong entirely. While spring competition would be cancelled for 2020, the NCAA voted on March 30th to give senior athletes of spring athletics and extra season of eligibility if they chose to use it. There was period where the future of the athletes was left uncertain. The situation was developing and changing so rapidly that the next move was never solidified.
“We were still kind of in limbo for a few weeks,” says Jack Pilcher, senior pitcher for the Bulldogs. “We were just sweating it out not knowing what they were gonna do that Monday. But thank god for the SAAC leaders because without them, I know a lot of schools were initially against another year of eligibility.”
SAAC, or Student-Athletic Advisory Committees, are representatives for NCAA teams who are called upon to represent the players of each school’s program. Each at Butler has their own person to represent. According to Pilcher, the SAAC leaders from several schools including Butler, created a document to plead for an extra year of senior eligibility.
“I think what the student athletes said and the SAAC reps message has quite a bit of weight in the NCAA’s decision,” Pilcher said.
To say that athletes were upset by how the situation was initially handled would be an understatement. As the news broke, seniors across the country began taking to social media to thank their coaches and teammates for their support and voicing their thoughts on the season that never was. Many coaches and team executives found out the season was cancelled the same way as the athletes, through online sources via Twitter and Instagram.
“It was incredibly frustrating to me that people that I don’t even go to school with are texting me saying, “I’m sorry,” when we hardly got that and any information from the NCAA,” Christensen said. “I get that it needs to be articulated well and thought out but I think they maybe could have handled it a bit better. This is a crisis and I get there are other things that are important, but it could have been done different.”
Still, many seniors like Christensen and Pilcher know that the premise of the NCAA is to represent the student-athletes well and do what’s in their best interest. To balance the rosters with new commitments coming in the teams are being allowed extra roster spots for each redshirt seniors they had on the team this year in addition to the regulatory size for the sport. Baseball typically allows for 35 roster spots, but with Butler’s six seniors, they’re allowed to have 41 should all seniors opt to return. Still it remains up to the team to determine how they want to disburse their scholarships.
For Pilcher, the situation works out perfectly, as he planned to go through Butler’s one-year Graduates program, requiring him to stay one additional year. Now, he’ll have the chance to play baseball while he stays. “It’ll be awesome to come back here next year because I didn’t think I’d get the chance to play ball as a graduate,” he said. “Now that I’ll be getting a year back I’ll be able to do that on top of being a grad student which is fantastic.”
For others, they had planned on going into the workforce after college. Some even had jobs lined up and now must choose whether or not to put those opportunities on hold for their chance at one final season. Christensen is fortunate that her job and contract are forgiving enough that the position will still be there more than a year from now. She plans to come back for one more season and then go work for the firm she had originally committed to.
“There’s so much to work out with the university and everything but the first step was to have the NCAA have a conversation with my work,” she said, “Luckily, the person I’m going to work for is so awesome and understands and supports me being an athlete that they’re letting me pursue those goals before I move on into the real world.”
These are trying times and not everyone is as fortunate to have had their situations work out like Jack and Madi. They both understand that they are very special cases and plan to make the most of it. For many, the dilemma still remains. Should they take their last trip to the plate or should they begin to set up at the desk? It’s a question every player expected to ask themselves, but perhaps anticipated coming much later in the year.