Three of Harvard’s student athletes from the Bromfield School’s Class of 2020 have secured roster spots on varsity Ivy League teams for this coming academic year, but recent announcements made by the league outlining cancellations, postponements, and new safety guidelines have changed what the next few months will look like for these rising freshmen.
On July 8, the Ivy League became the first Division I conference to cancel fall sports competition out of concern for the spread of the coronavirus. The decision was released in a letter on the league’s website: “With the information available to us today regarding the continued spread of the virus, we simply do not believe we can create and maintain an environment for intercollegiate athletic competition that meets our requirements for safety and acceptable levels of risk, consistent with the policies that each of our schools is adopting as part of its reopening plans this fall,” the Ivy League Council of Presidents wrote in a joint statement regarding the decision.
The league’s decision regarding fall competition for 2020 was one that many athletes expected, but while the official announcement has given students a better picture of what the coming months will look like for them, it has also opened the door to many new questions.
Brown delays arrivals for freshmen as well as sports
Anna Shlimak is a rising freshman at Brown and will be competing for the women’s varsity crew team. She said in an interview that she wasn’t surprised about the league’s decision and has turned her focus to the spring season.
Crew is one of the few collegiate sports that compete in both the fall and spring, but Shlimak said that, at least for Brown, spring is typically the focus anyway.
At Brown, it isn’t just athletes who are facing cancellations. The school has decided to switch to a trimester system meant to reduce the density of the campus population. Under this plan, freshmen won’t start their school year until 2021. The incoming class will have the option to take one online course for free during the fall, but otherwise they will be waiting until the spring to begin their college experience. The plan is then to have a semester in the summer during which freshmen will be on campus and enrolled in a typical course load.
Shlimak said that she is disappointed not to be on campus in the fall but sees where the university is coming from. “I understand that they really want to be able to integrate the freshmen to campus and they just know that they can’t do that properly in the fall.”
Angela Xing is another Brown athlete, a gymnast. Like Shlimak, she is a rising freshman at the university and was a bit shaken by the school’s decision to delay the start of school for freshmen. “I was a little surprised when they said freshmen were not on campus. I understand that they want to try to reduce the number of students on campus. I just didn’t expect it to be freshmen to not go on … campus first semester,” she said in an interview.
With her summer break now extended through the fall, Xing is concerned about how she will occupy herself this coming semester. She is considering getting a job but also might take online courses unaffiliated with Brown. She said that MIT and Stanford have some free online offerings that would be relevant to the majors she is deciding between: computer science and computational biology. She wouldn’t get credit for the courses but says she would do it “to learn something new and have that knowledge when I go back to campus.”
Until she can be on campus, Xing is able to practice at the club gym she competed for in high school. She said she spends three to four hours a day there, training with her high school coach and getting in the strength and conditioning work assigned to her by her coach at Brown. Still, she is disappointed about the delay in her college experience: “It has made me kind of upset that I’m not allowed to train with the team or be on campus during the fall.”
In terms of training for crew, Shlimak isn’t sure what the next few months will look like. According to Brown’s athletic website, sports programs will be allowed to phase in group training activities, meaning that upperclassmen may still be able to practice as a team this fall but freshmen won’t have the same options. Since they won’t be on campus, they won’t be able to attend practices and won’t be allowed to have the same kind of direction from coaches.
Shlimak said that she will be receiving workouts from the captains of the Brown team and that she may be able to use equipment from the club team she rowed for in high school.
“I do pretty well training individually,” Shlimak said. She is used to having a stretch of time during the winter when there are few competitions and much of her training is solo. Having that stretch extended when racing was canceled this spring was a bit more difficult, but keeping her sights set on next spring makes it a bit easier. “I think it will be helpful to have the support of my teammates at Brown to kind of keep me going and remind me what the end goal is which is, hopefully, looking toward spring racing and the championship races that come in the spring.”
Until they can be together in person, the team has been getting to know each other virtually. Shlimak said that the crew freshmen have a group chat and that the whole team has been meeting on Zoom to keep in touch. She said that the captains have done a lot of outreach to the team while providing the summer training plans and that she has met with her coaches over Zoom as well. So far, she said that this contact has been positive, “it seems like a really good community and I’m already pretty happy to be a part of it.”
So far, no decisions have been made about winter or spring competition, and the Ivy League is entertaining the idea of holding fall sports, specifically football, in the spring. Still, winter and spring athletes are questioning the likelihood of competing during their seasons.
Winter sports still uncertain at UPenn
Samantha Schoenberg is a rising freshman at the University of Pennsylvania, where she was recruited as a high jumper for the track and field team. Track and field is held during the winter and spring seasons so the cancelation of fall competition doesn’t change much for Schoenberg, but she is preparing for the possibility of winter sports facing a similar fate. “I don’t want to be pessimistic, but I also don’t want to get my hopes up and be let down so … I’m not banking on having a winter season, but if it happens I’ll be happily surprised,” she said in an interview.
The University of Pennsylvania is allowing all students to return to campus with single dorm rooms guaranteed to first- and second-year students who applied for housing, and classes will be a mix of in-person, remote, and hybrid instruction.
Schoenberg said that she and her teammates who choose to return to campus will be allowed to train together. She said the school is allowing practices to begin in a phased manner, starting with small groups and eventually progressing to more normal practices. For her this isn’t much of a change, she said, since the high jump group is already relatively small. “It doesn’t seem like too much of what I normally would have done would be changed so I’m really thankful that they are allowing practices to continue for all the fall and winter and spring athletes.”
Schoenberg has already been grappling with adversity in her training routine. A few weeks after her indoor track season was cut short by the coronavirus, she broke her foot while running. She learned she had been training on a stress fracture, which turned into a more serious break that required surgery. Since then, she has been cross training to stay in shape and is staying positive about the recovery process. “My whole training has just been completely shaken up but … even though it’s different, I’m still getting a lot done. So if [there is] another season that doesn’t happen I still think I’ll be in shape ... but it will be a bummer to not be able to see it all come together in competition.”
She’s keeping an open mind about her school’s situation as a whole as well, reasoning that with all the changes being implemented, everyone, not just freshmen, will be adjusting. “Everyone is kind of in the same boat and that almost makes it a little bit less scary … because everybody’s college experience is going to be different from what they expect.”
Other leagues also announce delays
Since the Ivy League announced their decision regarding fall competition, other conferences and schools have followed suit. The Patriot League became the second Division I conference to cancel its fall season on July 13, and a few Division III conferences including the Centennial Conference and the New England Small College Athletic Conference have canceled. Additionally, some schools including Amherst College, Mount Holyoke College, Wellesley College, and Brandeis University have made individual decisions to suspend fall competition.
The Ivy League has established itself as a leader in decisions regarding athletics during the pandemic. Back in March, it called off the Ivy League Basketball Tournaments out of concern for the virus, a choice that was mirrored by seven other Division I conferences over the subsequent two days. One day after canceling the tournaments, the Ivy League became the first Division I conference to cancel spring sports competition, 24 hours ahead of the announcement by the National Collegiate Athletic Association that there would be no further winter or spring championship events.