This semester is the first time in Utica College history that all 23 sports teams will be competing at the same time. Putting this athletic season together required a cross-sport effort to get all teams the seasons they’ve been waiting so long for.
Athletic directors, trainers, coaches and other administrators began working on this season well before the start of the spring semester.
“The plans were formulated using the Empire 8, NCAA and New York State and Oneida County guidelines,” said Jim Murnane, assistant athletic director.
For student-athletes, this meant significant changes to the way they practice, travel and compete.
Utica College made the decision to test all student-athletes three times each week to ensure the health and safety of everyone on campus. Each team also makes up its own testing pool. This ensures that if any pool comes back positive the school will immediately know which team needs to come in for further testing – reducing the risk of spread.
Assigning practice times proved to be more difficult.
The Hutton Sports and Recreational Center has always been an important part of Pioneer athletics as it allows pre-season and off-season practice to occur for all teams specifically at the start of the spring semester.
This year, in particular, the Pioneers are more fortunate than ever to have the dome.
“An indoor facility helps balance practice schedules and give our student-athletes the opportunity to practice when we experience inclement weather conditions during the months of February and March,” Athletic Director Dave Fontaine said.
Now entering the halfway point of the semester, ten teams have already begun their seasons, of which several have started off strong namely men’s basketball (2-0), men’s hockey (3-1) and men’s track and field (2-0).
Covid-19 protocols continue to be in place, but athletes are allowed more leniency during games.
“We will follow NCAA recommendations set forth by the NCAA Medical Committee and Chief Medical Officer Dr. Brian Hainline,” Fontaine said. “All teams will mask when on the sidelines with the exception of volleyball.”
This means that when the players and coaches are on their respective benches they must be wearing a mask, but when they are active in competition they are allowed to play as normal.
Travel precautions are still restricting many from having the full seasons they normally would. Spring sports such as baseball and softball are not taking their spring training trips down south to warmer weather. However, most teams are not traveling far enough to spend the night at all this season.
“We have just about eliminated all overnight travel,” Fontaine said. “Teams can travel to anyone within the conference. We have modified non-conference competition to avoid longer trips we would normally take during a non-COVID year.”
Despite the changes and the setbacks, the athletic staff still looks forward to a fairly normal season for many teams.
“I believe that the teams will be able to have meaningful competition and I am very optimistic about NCAA spring sports championships taking place,” Murnane said. “If any roadblocks arrive, I believe we will be able to adapt and overcome them.”