An unfortunate, yet potentially reasonable question that has crept into the minds of a lot of students over the past few weeks has been, “What if the fall semester is online too?”
With nobody able to perfectly predict when the COVID-19 pandemic will come to an end, students all across America are having to regretfully accept the fact that another semester of learning from their laptops could be in the cards. However, a big issue with remote learning is that while classes may not cease, plenty of other aspects of typical college life get lost in the shuffle. 

For plenty of students, one of the most significant of those losses is the absence of athletics, which have already been canceled for the remainder of the spring semester by Keene State College and by the NCAA as a whole. Now with fear growing that the suspension of in-person activities may extend into the fall, the Keene State Athletics Department is trying to stay one step ahead of the virus, coming up with solutions to problems that may arise if a remote fall semester becomes a reality. 

Recently, Phil Racicot, the director of athletics and recreation at Keene State College, talked about some preliminary ideas and concerns the department has regarding a remote fall semester, along with how the department is dealing with the current situation in the spring semester. 

Racicot said that so far during remote learning, staying connected with student-athletes and making sure all is well has been one of the athletic department’s top priorities.

“From an athletics standpoint I’ve always said the most important things are our student-athletes and our staff, our coaches,” Racicot said. “Those are our greatest assets. Let’s continue to make sure they’re okay. We want to make sure that we’re taking steps, through our coaches and other avenues, to maintain some resemblance of staying connected, offering a variety of workshops and all those kinds of things.”

“Mental health-wise obviously this is a challenging time for everyone,” Racicot said. “Student-athletes typically are very resilient in nature. I mean, you don’t win every game you play, so you learn resilience after a certain period of time. They’re always very dedicated and determined, and now all of a sudden the rug gets pulled out from underneath you. You’re no longer with your teammates and coaches all the time, you don’t have that release, that thing that you’re very passionate about that’s a big part of your identity. So we’re always very concerned about that.”

Racicot then talked about plans for a remote fall semester, starting off by saying nothing is official yet. 

“In the event that we don’t have a fall season, which would happen if the fall essentially mirrors what we just went through here in spring, it’s going to be remote instruction again. From a pure eligibility standpoint, nothing official has come out from an NCAA perspective because nobody really knows what’s going to happen yet.”

However, while nothing is official yet, Racicot thinks he has a pretty good idea as to what would happen if the fall semester is indeed remote, saying that student-athletes will likely be given an extra semester of eligibility in their respected NCAA sport to make up for the season they would be losing.

“So, what I think we would be looking at in the event that everything in the fall is sort of ‘spring part two,’” Racicot said. “We would be looking at what you saw happen in the spring, where the NCAA enacted a blanket waiver essentially, granting every student athlete who’s in a spring sport another season of eligibility, without question. So, for students who enroll in the fall and then don’t get to participate in athletics, play their NCAA sport in the fall, I think we’d be really looking at exactly that same thing where you’re going to have the ability to tack that extra semester on.”

On another note, though, Racicot said there would be some requirements the students would have to fulfill in order to participate in their extra semester of athletics, with one of the primary requirements being enrollment in at least a minor at Keene State College. 

“The next question is, is it feasible for people?” Racicot asked. “Is that something from a cost standpoint they could incur?”

“You think about ways the NCAA has just lifted some of the requirements directly affecting Division III athletes, where previously you always had to be enrolled in a full-time bachelor’s program or a graduate program in order to compete, and so for students who are going to come back next spring, they are now able to compete next spring if they are taking classes toward a minor or even a certificate program as opposed to having to be enrolled in a degree program.”

“There’s been some discussion about if they could just straight up come back and play. But I really don’t think that’s going to gain a lot of traction within the NCAA. From a student-athlete perspective, student’s the first word, right? Granted, it’s a terrible set of circumstances that you lose the opportunity to compete in the sport where you were so dedicated to for the majority of your life. But in some cases, as we are seeing on a daily basis, there are far worse things that could happen, right?”

Racicot also talked about other possible changes that could take place in the fall if classes are in-person rather than remote, showing that there’s still more questions than there are answers at the moment.

“One of the first things that maybe comes to mind is athletics training, what are the protocols there?” Racicot asked. “With athletic training and how all that happens in the weight rooms, in the rec center, locker rooms, how will all that equipment get cleaned? How do we address making sure that everything is sterilized and cleaned on a regular basis? What if we come back and there are still things in place about social distancing?” 

“We’ve also even started to envision a lot of what’s been talked about on the professional level and collegiate level, which is, will this be something where we may end up having to play games without crowds? That is definitely a consideration. We can’t come out and say that’s going to happen right now, but we have to start to prepare for what that might look like. 

So, one thing is for certain: Things are going to be very different in the fall semester, whether we return to campus or everything is online again. And while there are still a lot of unknowns floating through the air, Racicot assures that from an athletics perspective, the correct decisions will be made, and they will be made at the appropriate time.

“One of my favorite quotes is by John Wooden. It’s, ‘be quick but don’t hurry,’” Racicot said. “So, we have to be prepared for all those scenarios, but we can’t be in a hurry to make a decision.”

            Furthermore, Amy Watson, the head coach of the Keene State College field hockey team, also recently commented on the situation, saying that the fall semester is still too far off to be able to tell what will happen. 

            “Sorry, but these are not questions I can even speculate on,” Watson said. “Each week, President Treadwell updates our staff on the state of the COVID-19 situation, and at this time, it is just too soon to tell what the fall semester will look like. The best we can do is remain cautiously optimistic for a traditional fall semester.”

 

Matt Holderman can be contacted at:

mholderman@kscequinox.com