A spring break they wanted no part of
OMAHA, Neb. — Creighton righthander Ben Dotzler was supposed to be in the bullpen at TD Ameritrade Park this weekend, readying himself to pitch against Northern Colorado.
Molly Little, who plays lacrosse for Denver, expected to be on the road for a much anticipated match against Michigan, the team the Pioneers beat to reach the Elite Eight of the NCAA Tournament last year.
Avrey Steiner thought she would be with her softball teammates for Illinois’ first home games of the season against Bowling Green and Green Bay.
Everything changed for thousands of college athletes when the NCAA announced Thursday it was canceling all spring sports championships, along with remaining winter championships, because of the coronavirus pandemic. Conferences followed, saying they were temporarily or permanently shutting down their regular seasons. Suddenly, athletes who put in long hours juggling commitments to their sports and academics had lots of free time. And they’re miserable.
“We didn’t work a whole year,” Dotzler said, “to play 15 games.”
Little said she woke up at 6:30 every morning to go to the training room to rehab an injury and stretch before lifting weights and running — all before going to a 2 1⁄2-hour practice and then her classes.
“There’s nothing that can prepare you for the feeling of your season being done, and it’s not because you lost in NCAAs,” Little said. “I spent many hours crying with teammates. You work your whole life to get to this point, to play on this big stage, and to have it taken from you is devastating.”
Steiner said she was doing fine emotionally until she started cleaning out her locker Friday.
“That really got me,” she said. “A lot of people are going to say, ‘Oh, yeah, this is like a week off or getting a couple days off. I guarantee you it’s going to hit me and other people in the coming weeks.”
Some good news arrived on Friday when the NCAA informed schools that spring athletes would be given another year of eligibility to make up for their lost season. Details must be worked out. States Fort, a senior on the Coastal Carolina men’s golf team, hopes to return for another year even though he’ll graduate in May.
“I would try to make it work with grad courses,” he said. “I would do everything in my power as long as the finances are there. I would love to come back and play with these guys.”
Not all seniors will be able to take advantage of being granted an extra year. Some already have jobs lined up. Others have been accepted into graduate programs at other schools. There are athletes who currently are on partial scholarships, and they may not be able to afford paying the difference for another year.
Though the eligibility extension offers some consolation, it will be impossible for athletes to duplicate the experiences of playing with their 2020 teams.