The spring of 2020 was filled with hope and optimism for college softball and baseball programs around the country. All the hard work in the offseason was now ready to pay dividends in real games. Little did we know that an overwhelming force would abruptly end the season for every team in the United States. No, it wasn’t COVID-19, it was the Ivy League!
I’ll never forget that day in Tucson last March. We were coming off a signature win over one of the top teams in our tournament when we heard the news that Harvard was cancelling their entire softball season due to the threat of the pandemic. As coaches, we were shocked and confused. Did this mean other schools and conferences would be forced to cancel their seasons because the brain trust at one the most prestigious academic (not athletic) schools in the country decided to shut down their program? Unfortunately, it turned out that Harvard’s rash decision was the needless death knell for every college softball and baseball season in the country.
I’ll admit that the threat to college students posed by COVID-19 was unknown last March. Scientists around the world were scrambling to understand, respond, and control this new invisible foe that was invading our country. But, cancelling the entire softball season without all the facts was a knee-jerk reaction that turned out to be much more devastating to student-athletes than the virus.
The chain of events that followed the uninformed decision by Harvard caused immeasurable pain for athletic programs, coaches, players, parents, and prospective recruits. Dreams of playing that final college season were dashed for seniors. College scholarships vanished, because rosters were overflowing with players with an additional year of eligibility. Some coaches were forced to take pay cuts and others lost their jobs. Sports programs were eliminated and college enrollments declined dramatically. Thanks, Ivy League!
The loss of softball and baseball would soon be compounded for student-athletes. When college administrations added insult to injury by switching to online learning, the nightmare was just beginning. As a college professor and college softball coach, I have seen firsthand what “schools of higher learning” have done to their students. Record levels of anxiety, all forms of substance abuse, and epidemic levels of suicide are affecting college students like never before.
I often wonder whether the college softball and baseball seasons could have been completed in some form or fashion if Harvard and the other schools in the Ivy League waited a little longer to better understand the virus. Aren’t they supposed to be smarter than everyone else? One would think they would commission a research study or publish a few papers before taking such bold action.
Calmer Heads Prevail
Less than three months after the complete shutdown of college softball and baseball, these sports were alive again in states that used common sense and followed “the real science” at the same time. Gee, what a combination.
States like Iowa allowed high schools to play an abbreviated season, while other states like Illinois cowered in the corner hoping no one would notice the damage they were causing to young people in every town in the state. I’ll stop short of blaming politics for the inconsistent application of COVID-19 restrictions, but what else could account for such diametrically opposed policies?
All summer, travel teams around the country played safely in well-planned tournaments. The virus was still lurking, but the rewards to the teams that participated far outweighed the risks. Tournament organizers saw through the fear mongering and disinformation. Players were finally allowed to leave their bedrooms to begin rehabilitating their minds and bodies with their friends, knowing the threat to their health was miniscule. The joy was back!
That brings us to the current crisis sponsored once again by Harvard and the Ivy League with their recent announcement to cancel all winter sports. You would think these “great minds” would finally get it right. Study after study is now showing that young people should not be locked down. They are much safer outside of the home and especially outdoors, like perhaps at a softball or baseball field!
Unfortunately, irreparable damage to college athletics and to student-athletes has already been done. Preventing the least vulnerable in our country from living with some degree of normalcy through athletic competition and in-person learning will negatively affect this generation for years to come.
We have heard people say “The cure cannot be worse than the virus”. Based on what we now know about the actual threat to young people, cancelling sports seasons is far worse for them than contracting the virus. Young lives are literally being destroyed.
Participating in sports has always been a safe haven for young people. Losing the personal connections with coaches and fellow players will surely lead many down a dangerous path filled with uncertainty and hardship.
I hope the athletic departments with lesser collective intelligence than the almighty Ivy League will develop some managerial courage. If they work closely with health officials, coaches, and players, a workable plan for the upcoming winter and spring seasons is more than feasible. It’s also mandatory!
The future of college athletics may be at stake in the next few months. It will take years for college athletic departments to recover the financial losses from the pandemic. But, it’s not too late for athletic directors to start making decisions that really do have the best interests of their student-athletes in mind.
I’m pleased that other college conferences have not followed the Ivy League’s latest premature reaction to cancel all winter sports. It appears that calmer and smarter heads are prevailing, which is a positive sign.
A Call To Action
As you can probably tell by the tone of this post, I’m extremely frustrated. My singular goal as a softball coach is to help student-athletes excel on and off the field. It has been heartbreaking for me to watch young women and men across the country used as pawns in this unfortunate and dangerous game.
I strongly encourage my fellow coaches to become vocal advocates for their student-athletes. I understand speaking up may jeopardize coaching careers or standings within athletic departments, but what other choice do we have? Hopefully, our unified voice will drown out the alarmists who seem obsessed with controlling the narrative and implementing errant and destructive policies.
I urge coaches at all levels to raise their voices above the drone of the so-called experts and bureaucrats. The cries of our players can be heard through our passionate and persistent calls for a rational and fact-based approach to playing softball and baseball this spring.
It’s time to finally follow the real science and not Harvard!
About Paul Petricca
n addition to writing this hitting blog, Paul is a hitting coach and the author of the books Hitting With Torque: For Baseball And Softball Hitters and his new children’s book Going Going Gone!. He is also a public speaker and provides unique customer engagement training through his company Torque Consulting. Paul teaches a Customer Relationship Management class to undergraduates at Wheaton College (IL) and MBA candidates at Loyola University Chicago, and DePaul University.