Smith: Postponing fall sports is ultimately the safest decision amid the COVID-19 pandemic

Fans cheer on Ball State football against Central Michigan Nov.16, 2019, at Scheumann Stadium. Ball State lost 45-44. Omari Smith, DN
Fans cheer on Ball State football against Central Michigan Nov.16, 2019, at Scheumann Stadium. Ball State lost 45-44. Omari Smith, DN

Connor Smith is a junior news journalism major. His views do not necessarily reflect those of the newspaper. Write to Connor at cnsmith@bsu.edu

When Mid-American Conference commissioner Jon Steinbrecher confirmed the postponement of fall sports on Aug. 8, I felt relieved more than anything else.

Don’t get me wrong — I love sports. Over the past two years, I’ve had the privilege to hone my skills as a reporter for The Daily News, covering Ball State Men’s Golf, Men’s Volleyball and Soccer. With that said, the COVID-19 pandemic has brought a unique set of circumstances to intercollegiate athletics across the United States, primarily reflected by one question: to play or not to play?

Following the MAC’s postponement, the Big Ten, Pac-12 and other leagues/schools followed suit in either canceling or delaying all fall sports competition until the spring. These decisions have inevitably sparked controversy among fans and athletes. Last Friday, a group of 25 parents protested for a fall football season outside the Big Ten headquarters in Rosemont, Illinois. 

It’s completely understandable why many people want to rep their colors and cheer on their favorite schools. Sports unite us, and more importantly, provide us a sense of normalcy. With the exception of a few team-wide outbreaks throughout Major League Baseball, the majority of the North American major professional leagues have handled the virus tremendously thus far. 

However, intercollegiate athletics is a different story. While I’m not a student-athlete myself, balancing classes, practices, competition and social life is tough. An NCAA survey found the majority of student-athletes average four nights of insufficient sleep per week in comparison to their non-athlete peers. 

Intercollegiate athletics also requires sufficient travel. Knowing the virus spreads rapidly, is it fair for athletes, coaches and other personnel to travel to other states on a weekly to monthly basis while potentially risking their friends, family and other peers? While CBS Sports has discussed the possibility of a “bubble” environment for college basketball, is this honestly a viable option for student-athletes who value the on-campus experience? 

Most importantly, how would testing work? Does an entire team quarantine for two weeks should an athlete test positive? 

Ball State women's volleyball huddles after defeating Central Michigan in the last game of the regular season Nov. 16, 2019, in John E. Worthen Arena. The Cardinals are 17-11 for the season going into the MAC championship. Eric Pritchett, DN

While “canceling the season” may seem like a cop-out at this point, there’s ultimately too much at stake right now for student-athletes to compete in a safe and socially responsible environment. 

Studies have shown that participating in sports is important in building one’s own self-esteem and confidence. However, there’s a time and place for everything. I am absolutely confident that it’s a matter of “when,” not “if” intercollegiate athletics return safely in the near future, and fans will pack the stands again. 

Believe me, I feel for the athletes who had their spring seasons cut short last March. Circumstances such as the pandemic are out of our control, but it’s heartbreaking to think you’ve stepped on the field or court for the last time without even realizing what would happen next.  

So, what am I going to miss the most about not having a fall sports season, especially at Ball State? 

I covered three of Ball State Football’s games last year. Between the energy of the student section and the roar of the Pride of Mid-America Marching Band, attending games at the Scheu is a fall tradition for the Muncie community. There’s no doubt Saturday afternoons are going to feel different for me come September. 

Furthermore, I was The Daily News’ beat reporter for Soccer last fall. Although the team was upset by No. 7 Eastern Michigan in the MAC quarterfinals, they had an impressive run down the stretch, winning nine of their final 10 regular-season games under first-year head coach Josh Rife. 

Since joining the Daily News as a freshman, I also covered Ball State Men’s Golf until the pandemic hit last March. This beat was a great opportunity to introduce me to sports reporting at the collegiate level.

Therefore, while I miss covering events and tracking teams on a daily basis, I support Steinbrecher’s decision to postpone fall sports until the Spring. I understand it’s a difficult one for athletes, coaches and fans to swallow, but waiting until conditions improve is ultimately the smartest decision so teams can compete again safely. 

Contact Connor Smith with comments at cnsmith@bsu.edu or on Twitter @cnsmith_19.

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