IUS cancels all spring sports, extends student eligibility in response to COVID-19

Global pandemic results in IU Southeast Athletics canceling the rest of the Spring 2020 season, ending a pair of historic seasons

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Brandon Miniard

IUS Baseball Junior Clay Woeste heads back to the Grenadier dugout after being picked off to end the fifth inning of game one of a doubleheader against Campbellsville University on March 4.

Brandon Miniard, Sports Editor

On Tuesday, March 10, IU President Michael McRobbie announced that all Indiana University campuses would postpone face-to-face classes for two weeks after the Spring Break week of March 15 through 21 amidst growing concerns over the outbreak of COVID-19, more commonly known as Coronavirus.

At the time McRobbie’s announcement was made, there was uncertainty as to how this would affect IU Southeast’s remaining athletics schedule, leading to conversations with health officials, the River States Conference, and the NAIA. The IUS Athletic department, along with every member school in the RSC, had decided to suspend all athletic-related events, including all games and practices organized or informal through March 31.

As COVID-19’s spread accelerated in the subsequent days, so did IUS’ response, as well as the NAIA’s. On March 16, four days after the suspension was announced, all spring sports were officially cancelled for every NAIA school, including IUS.

“All possible scenarios that would have supported a spring sports season were seriously considered by multiple NAIA governance groups,” said NAIA President and CEO Jim Carr in a statement released on the River States Conference’s website. “However, the growing state of emergency due to COVID-19, as well as the Center for Disease Control’s recommendations, meant we could not in good conscience move forward with the spring sports season and championships.”

This decision came on the heels of many suspensions and cancellations both in the NCAA and in professional sports leagues, most notably the NBA, who became the first sanctioning sports body to call timeout on the season until the pandemic is resolved.

The cancellation of the remaining season came while Grenadier baseball, softball, and men’s and women’s tennis were still playing, the former two in the midst of historic starts to their seasons.

“All of us in the IU Southeast Athletic Department are heartbroken for our student-athletes who had their season’s cancelled due to COVID-19. To see their seasons end this way does not make anyone happy, but their health and safety is our first priority as it always is throughout the year,” IU Southeast Athletic Director Joe Glover said. “We know some of our athletes are hurting, but our coaches and staff are here to help them navigate these challenging and confusing times.  We will get through this together and we will be doing everything in our power to support our student-athletes.”

We know some of our athletes are hurting, but our coaches and staff are here to help them navigate these challenging and confusing times. We will get through this together and we will be doing everything in our power to support our student athletes”

— Joe Glover, IUS Athletic Director

The baseball team, which moved to No. 12 in the NAIA Top 25 just a day before the suspension, started the year 18-1 (6-0 RSC), including winning their first 12 consecutive games and having a perfect 15-0 record at home. The Grenadiers have outscored opponents 178-76 and rank first in the nation in Doubles Per Game (2.8), Triples Per Game (0.7), fourth in  Runs Scored Per Game (9.9), and 12th in Fielding Percentage (.970). Their next scheduled game was on Friday, March 13, when they were to welcome RSC rival Point Park for a three-game weekend series.

“During this time off, we want to enjoy every moment we had together,” Head Baseball Coach Ben Reel said. “I’m also tasking them with how they each want to be remembered because they will leave a lasting impression on each other, our beloved baseball program, and Indiana University Southeast.”

The Grenadier softball team was also off to a historic start, going 19-2-1 and began to receive votes in the NAIA Top 25. Their next contest was a doubleheader scheduled for March 18 at Kentucky State University. The Grenadiers had yet to participate in RSC action this season, their first conference matchup originally planned for March 27 against Carlow.

“Sports are a very important way of life for many of us, but this pandemic is also a reminder from the man above as to who is in charge,” Head Softball Coach Joe Witten wrote in a statement to The Horizon. “I hurt for our student-athletes, especially the seniors, as they work rigorously to achieve their goals competitively everyday and you’re only young once. Maybe the human race will view things a little differently as we all think about what in life really matters.” 

Finally, the men’s and women’s tennis teams finished with records of 8-5 and 4-6 respectively. Neither squad had begun RSC play when the suspension, and later cancellation, came down. The highlight of either season came from the men’s squad, who opened the spring portion of their schedule with a 4-3 victory over then No. 25 Campbellsville.

It’s all been very strange to process that’s for sure. This was going to be a successful season I have no doubt. The men were ranked in the last two polls as high as 29th in the country and had a great chance to win a conference championship,” Head Tennis Coach Joe Epkey. “The women were looking good to compete at the top of the conference with a few additions in January that would have been nice to see play out. We are going to stay optimistic and look forward to building our team for next season but most importantly right now we want to make sure all our players finish the semester strong in the classroom and stay healthy.”

At first, the news was painful for many Grenadier athletes, seniors in particular, but the NAIA has already taken measures to address the issue. All NAIA athletes who competed in a spring sport, senior or not, will not be charged a season of competition for 2020, essentially giving all spring athletes an additional year in 2021. This means that, in theory, the four Grenadier sports affected could potentially return every member of their 2020 roster in 2021.