OSWEGO — Spring sports will soon be returning to Oswego State and other SUNY Athletic Conference campuses.
With Laker baseball players throwing and catching the ball in the background, State University of New York Chancellor Dr. James Malatras made the announcement Tuesday at Oswego State’s Romney Field House practice facility. Nearly a dozen university presidents from around the SUNY system also joined remotely.
Spring sports — baseball, softball, men’s and women’s lacrosse, men’s and women’s track and field, and women’s tennis — are set to begin March 20.
“That’s really exciting news for us today. It’s great to have that competition come back,” Malatras said.
The spring sports season was canceled last year upon the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic in order to keep athletes and all the students, officials and staff safe.
This spring, because of the ability to test frequently and the sharp decline in positivity rates, college presidents from SUNYAC institutions decided to formulate a plan to move forward with the safe return of athletics within the conference.
“On Jan. 20, I asked the SUNYAC presidents to consider and develop a plan to get our athletics back going on our SUNYAC campuses,” Malatras said.
He noted that more than 50 people put in a lot of hard work in the past month to develop the plan for a safe return to athletics.
“We are going to take some enhanced protocols so we can keep our competition going throughout the course of the spring,” Malatras said.
Highlights of the plan include:
• The SUNYAC will be split into East and West regions to limit travel and overnight stays.
• Masks will be worn at all times by athletes, coaches, and officials, except for athletes during competition or active practice.
• No spectators will be allowed, pursuant to New York state policy.
• Rising positivity rates could delay the start of the season or bring about a pause in the competition.
• In addition to regular weekly testing and symptom checks prior to competition, student-athletes will be tested within three days of competition “so we can better monitor the condition of our student-athletes and make sure they are not unknowingly spreading the virus,” the chancellor said.
• There will be no eating on buses, and masks are to be worn on buses. Capacity on buses will be limited.
• There will be no handshakes, group celebrations, or pregame or postgame interaction with opponents.
Even with these protocols and restrictions, Tuesday’s announcement was welcome news for Laker athletes such as Myles Felton of Utica, a senior outfielder.
“We know it wasn’t an easy decision that you guys have come to,” Felton said. He added that the baseball players and the rest of the Lakers’ spring athletes are “beyond excited for this opportunity to get a chance to play this semester.
“It was kind of tough last year not being able to get a chance to play,” he said. “I’m excited to play against our SUNYAC competition. We’re ready to play the season.”
SUNY Oswego President Deborah F. Stanley acknowledged the sacrifices student-athletes have had to make in the past year.
“We are (NCAA) Division III institutions. We really put the student-athletes first. They’re so committed to their sports. They’re so dedicated. Most of them have played their sports all of their lives,” she said. “With this pandemic, we have not been able to allow them to express that in their lives. We as educators know that putting those kinds of supports around students is the most important thing to their success.”
“Our student-athletes have had real challenges over the past year. They have really sacrificed for the greater good. We owe them a real debt of gratitude for all that they’ve done. They’ve given up a lot of their athletic eligibility because of the pandemic. We feel for them. We know it’s been tough, but they’ve come through,” Malatras said. “They’ve done everything within their power to keep our campuses safe and reopening.”
Malatras and Stanley both praised the students at all the SUNY schools for doing their part to stay safe and lower the COVID-19 positivity rate.
“We are now at a different time, we hope, a different stage of the virus. We feel like we’re on a good trajectory. SUNY has been a model on how to manage the virus,” Malatras said. “We have now done nearly 1.1 million tests all across our system since the beginning of the fall semester in 2020. Our positivity rate is half a percentage point.”
He added that at Oswego State, nearly 8,000 tests have been done this semester, with a 0.16 percent positivity rate.
“We are keeping the virus under control on our campuses. Now let’s try to do more to reopen our campuses in more meaningful ways for our students, and the testing allows us to do just that,” Malatras said.
SUNYAC Commissioner Tom DiCamillo was on hand for the announcement. He said conference competition will be within a school’s division only. Oswego State will be in the West Division.
Conference slates for baseball and softball will consist of home-and-home doubleheaders. There might be some non-conference competition allowed, DiCamillo said.
The fact that all the SUNYAC schools are within the state helps, he said. Some Division III conferences include teams from multiple states.
“Our schedule and our championships are all in the state of New York, so that plays well for us,” he said.
There will be postseason play in the SUNYAC.
“When the time comes for the NCAAs, we’ll address that at that time,” he said.
Malatras was asked what would be done if there were a spike in COVID-19 positivity rates. He said they would look to take action in an aggressive but limited way as opposed to pausing the season for the entire league.
“We will keep competition going as long as our positivity rate remains low. If we see problems with the positivity rate, we will suspend competition, because in the end, that’s our number one concern. Likewise we’ll take aggressive actions if there are positive cases among our athletes.”
“This is something we are going to have to monitor. There are going to be times potentially where some of our teams won’t be able to play because of that. But I’m hopeful with these protocols in place we will be able to resume this in an effective manner.”
A safe return to athletics is a step forward that could lead to the resumption of other college activities, but Stanley said officials will be cautious in their approach.
“We are going to take baby steps because we have everyone to protect,” she said.
“This is an important and an exciting step for us,” Malatras said. “You can feel our campuses coming back to life in real and meaningful ways. Let’s get them back on the field. Let’s see how this goes, and then hopefully we can expand this to other athletic activities as well.”