The pandemic has brought SIUE Athletics many unexpected hurdles, which recently culminated in the Ohio Valley Conference's cancellation of fall competition. This caused a ripple effect of uncertainty to move all through athletics.
One of the biggest changes for SIUE Athletics was the cancellation of both the OVC and the Mid-America Conference. SIUE’s men’s soccer team competes in the MAC. Cale Wassermann, head coach of men’s soccer, said the choice to cancel those conferences, and all of SIUE’s fall games, was difficult to hear, but ultimately for the best.
“At the MAC, there were teams from almost 10 hours away. [For conferences,] you have to travel to hotels and restaurants you aren’t familiar with,” Wassermann said. “It's easy to control the campus, but if a team drives in from Chicago, they might stop at rest stops, go to a hotel or eat at restaurants. We’d have a lot of variables to deal with.”
Regardless of the COVID-19 pandemic and its many cancellations, Wassermann said the SIUE men’s soccer team may be joining a different conference in a few semesters— the Missouri Valley Conference.
“SIUE’s men’s soccer … is a MAC team. In fall of 2021, we may be joining the Missouri Valley Conference. That came a few months ago, mostly due to regional geography of the Missouri Valley Conference in comparison to the MAC, but the Missouri Valley Conference is definitely more regional,” Wassermann said. “It was a part of a more holistic way of looking at geography and what’s closer. This pandemic hasn’t started that, but it definitely emphasized the need for it.”
Director of Athletics Tim Hall said it was difficult to decide what to do for the fall athletics.
“I want to say our student athletes’ health, safety and well-being is my highest priority. My father used to say there was never immediate closure. Nothing is black and white, everything is gray. You have to find a way to be comfortable with the ambiguity of the world,” Hall said. “I don’t know if there’s a better phrase for the pandemic we’re all living through.”
Hall said he wanted to protect the SIUE community from the pandemic, but also keep student athletes engaged and involved. So, all games are cancelled, but Hall is still allowing teams to practice.
“I’m in favor of postponing most of our sports for the fall. We’re in a lot of different different leagues, and conferences and cities. Some are more rural, and others are closer to major urban areas. I think the regulations that are being enforced are very important,” Hall said. “[On the other hand], if someone has something that they’re passionate about, it matters to them a great deal. Our women’s soccer players have an identity strongly tied to them being soccer players, and it's tough to take that away from them.”
SIUE Broadcast and Media Relations Specialist Joe Pott said he thinks athletes should keep performing in a smaller capacity, but they should definitely act with caution.
“One of the things I’ve heard is that [the fall] may be similar to the off-season, which is a set number of hours each week they can be around their teams to practice. They have to be careful, but obviously they want to be able to do something,” Pott said.
Although there won’t be any games this semester, SIUE Athletics plans on continuing practices in order to keep teams going. Wassermann said his team has had an extremely long break in practice, and they’re all excited to go back to it.
“Normally, we practice until May, but some of our guys haven’t practiced since March 9, when we were on campus. We’re talking nine months off,” Wassermann said. “I’m thrilled to be back out on the field, practicing with our guys. We’re allowed to practice, and our medical staff has done a great job of putting together a system. We do temperature check everyday before practice, we wear masks, and plenty more, but with all those precautions, we can still practice.”
Pott said although some things are being figured out in the present, there will be a lot of uncertainties in the future.
“For now, a lot of discussions will be focused on what the fall looks like. But will the fall championships be replayed? Will they play a NCAA tournament? As I understand it, a lot depends on where we get as far as a vaccine or treatment methods,” Pott said. “It’s important for people to know that none of this was taken lightly. Certainly nobody wants to take away a season of competition for student athletes. I think, at the heart of all of this, is the welfare of the student athletes and the desire to protect them.”
For more information, check the SIUE Athletics website.