Coronavirus crisis: Cajuns coaches saw the end coming
When the Sun Belt Conference on Monday canceled its spring sports seasons and all other athletic activities for the rest of the school year, UL softball coach Gerry Glasco and Ragin’ Cajuns baseball coach Matt Deggs understood.
The NCAA, after all, already had canceled its winter and spring championships last Thursday due to the deadly coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic sweeping the country.
No College World Series in Omaha, Nebraska. No softball Women’s College World Series in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.
Without those two tournaments, it only made sense to them that the regular seasons should be canceled too.
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Yet the Sun Belt held out until late Monday, making its decision – while perhaps holding out, to no avail, that the NCAA would change its mind – only after a high-level meeting involving conference officials and presidents and chancellors of member schools.
Before the SBC decision was finalized, Cajuns coaches were willing to play along.
“Obviously if the conference called next week and said, ‘We’re gonna practice 10 days’ or ‘14 days’ and ‘play for the conference championship,’ if Dr. Maggard (Bryan Maggard, UL’s athletic director) said, ‘We’re going to the conference championship,’ we’re gonna go,” Glasco said shortly before the Sun Belt decided otherwise Monday.
But deep down it was apparent what direction things were headed, and Glasco – whose Cajuns were ranked No. 1 in national RPI ratings when the Women’s CWS was canceled – knew why.
Ditto for Deggs.
Some schools in the Sun Belt and other conferences, after all, already had sent their student-athletes home until at least the end of this month and, in some instances, well into next month.
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“If you clean your lockers up until April 15,” Glasco said with reference to the SEC shortly before the SBC decision was made public, “I just don’t see any way in the world you’d put those kids back in there and be able to get them in shape to play a conference tournament on the first of May or the end of April.
“That doesn’t seem logistically possible, when you consider that softball season, we start practicing on Jan. 6 for a Feb. 8 (season-opening) game. And just to get ready for the preseason we practice 32 days (during fall ball).
“So you can practice 10 days to get ready for the postseason? Then, why would take a chance on injuring a pitcher’s arm,” added Glasco, who has two of the country’s top pitchers in seniors Summer Ellyson and Megan Kleist. “Kids would be out of shape. You’d probably have to do physicals. There’s all kinds of things to come into play on that. … It doesn’t really seem feasible to me, but that’s just my opinion as a coach.”
Deggs, who also spoke with The Daily Advertiser shortly before the Sun Belt decision was finalized, felt similarly.
He didn’t see how the calendar could even fall in favor of resuming play.
“You know, look, the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) just came out (Sunday) and recommended eight weeks with no gatherings of 50 or more people,” he said with reference to a number that since then has been lowered by federal and various state officials to help limit spread of the virus.
“Well, that’s two months, man. By the time you got everybody back from that – if people are gonna comply with that, and I would assume most institutions would – (and) have some practice and whatnot, and are ready to go, you look up, it’s June 1.”
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That’s right around the time the NCAA Tournament would have started, and two weeks before the College World Series was to have opened.
One other significant development last week further made it seemingly nonsensical to conduct conference championship play when no national title would be contested.
Late last week the NCAA suggested it would grant an extra season of eligibility for the spring sports student-athletes – like UL softball pitchers Kleist and Ellyson, like Cajuns would-be Friday night baseball starter Brandon Young and like so many more – who lost most of their 2020 seasons.
Resuming play later this season – even at just the conference level – likely would mean no extra year would be granted to players on those teams.
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“I wouldn’t, as a coach or parent, ask a kid to burn a year of eligibility, when they could compete for the World Series (next year), to play a weekend or two of softball for a conference championship,” Glasco said. “That doesn’t make sense to me, based on what I know now.
“That wouldn’t be a smart approach. I would be thrilled to have that year of eligibility and use it in some way.”
In the end, then, Glasco figured it was only a matter of time before the plug was pulled.
The Cajuns coach understood why some conferences were holding out hope for as long as they could, but seemed to sense the Sun Belt wouldn’t last long.
“I think they’re just trying to go through a process of first delay, reassess in a couple weeks,” he said.
But he also understood why the NCAA made the decision it did last Thursday to cancel the CWS and others championship events.
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“I talked to their people,” Glasco said, “and they were advised by their doctors that it’s gonna be far worse in May than it is now.
“So they thought realistically, because of that, that if we're canceling now, and it’s gonna get worse through April and May, then we may as well be honest and just cancel the season.”
Was it the correct call?
“The future will tell the ‘right way’ and the ‘wrong way,’ or if it was the ‘right way.’ You know, I don’t know,” Glasco said. “I don’t want to make that decision. I’m a softball coach.”
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