GNAC comes to a halt due to pandemic

By Taylor VilesSports Editor

Usually busy with athletes, the Athletic Center is now home to equipment from the Edwards Gym until sports come back in session.
Photo by Taylor Viles

On March 13, the Great Northeast Athletic Conference (GNAC) opted to cancel the remainder of its spring season. The decision was made to protect student-athletes, fans and other athletic personnel.

As professional sports leagues also postponed their seasons, questions began to arise regarding when sports in America would be played again. Those questions have been answered on the professional level and certain highly-competitive collegiate leagues, but for the GNAC, they are still relevant.

Canceling the fall season seemed unthinkable in March, but GNAC Commissioner Joe Walsh had begun to think about the possibility during that time. “What is in my control is to be prepared and to have alternate plans,” Walsh said in an interview with The 1851 Chronicle in April.

Those alternate plans became apparent in late July, when the conference canceled the fall season following conversations with the President’s Council. The council is made up of the President of every GNAC school. President Michael Alexander, along with the Lasell’s athletic staff, decided four days prior to not partake in the season, regardless of GNAC’s decision.

Division I leagues such as the Southeastern Conference (SEC) and Big 10 have already begun playing games and the question has become, “why not the GNAC?” The simple answer is money. But, certain National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) sanctioned recommendations also played a role in the lack of GNAC sports this semester.

“The [NCAA] recommended that no one play this fall unless you could do ‘X, Y and Z,’” Commissioner Walsh explained. “The bottom line is…they [would require] testing three times a week.”

According to Walsh, this would cost $1.5 million for each school over the year. “If you have [a school like the University of] Alabama who stands to make $50- $75 million, they can afford that,” he said. A school like Lasell that doesn’t charge for game admittance would be hard-pressed to find a reason to deal with the hassle and expense of competing in fall sports.

Commissioner Walsh said the NCAA couldn’t dictate how leagues wanted to proceed, but what they recommended was important because of the legal ramifications attached if they ignored the NCAA guidelines.

To accommodate schools’ specific circumstances, the NCAA decided to alter a section of its bylaws. They allowed teams 114 days during the school year to use for athletic events. “[A team] can use them any way they want,” said Walsh.

Prior to COVID-19, the NCAA allowed teams a certain amount of weeks for “non-traditional seasons.” According to Lasell Baseball head coach Bill Uberti, the switch from weeks to days hasn’t been noticeable in scheduling yet. “We’re not allowed to start until October 3, because other sports are going right now,” said Uberti. He explained the team plans to use around 16 days this fall, on par with Lasell’s other traditional spring sports.

According to Athletic Director Kristy Walter, fall sports have already begun their practices and will continue until late October or early November. They will practice three days a week over that time.

In early October, the President’s Council will reconvene to discuss the likelihood of sports beginning during the spring semester. If the council decides to proceed with athletics, the date planned is January 30 and basketball would be the first sport to return. This would give time for each conference basketball team to play each other once, resulting in 11 regular-season games.

Conversations have been started by the league to lengthen the end of the basketball season but nothing is certain yet. If basketball is able to restart, it would likely propel spring sports to begin on schedule.

The prospect of both fall and spring sports playing during the same season is also possible. According to Walsh, the league could support it.

Walter acknowledges the idea but knows it won’t be easy. “We would have to be very creative and work out the best that we can with our facilities and the strengths that we have,” she said.

Even with early talks of these potentials, nothing can be set in stone or otherwise prom- ised while the state of the Northeast in 2021 is still unknown.

“One of the reasons we were concerned about playing this fall was because other states weren’t testing like we were,” said Walter. “I think if that is the case in the second semester… we may not want to play them.”

The constant changes of the last few months go to show it’s impossible to predict what comes next and leaves one only to guess.

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