College athletes wonder what fall sports will look like

Siena volleyball player Nicole Deobler said she’d love to go back and play this fall. Deobler, a 6-foot outside hitter who led the team in kills two years ago, wants to enjoy her senior season.

But Deobler, from the Los Angeles area, also wants to know what being a college athlete is going to look like during the coronavirus pandemic, and that precautions are being taken to protect her and her teammates from the virus.

“I think it goes without saying that health is everyone’s first priority,” she said. “Once we hear more, it’ll be easier to kind of feel more comforted about what they’re trying to do. But definitely it’s always a concern health-wise and we’ll see what they come up with and go from there.”

It could take many forms. Athletes having their temperatures checked every day. Testing for COVID-19 with athletes who test positive being isolated. Locker rooms and training rooms being sanitized regularly.

All are suggested by the NCAA’s “Core Principles of Resocialization of Collegiate Sport” document released earlier this month as a guideline to returning to competition.

A Times Union special report about how the Capital Region will look as the coronavirus quarantine begins to lift. Full coronavirus coverage here.

Local colleges, with guidance from the NCAA and government authorities, are putting together plans and can’t guarantee the fall sports season will start on time in mid-to-late August.

“We’re planning on everything from a traditional start date to later in the fall to how far in the fall can you go to have a meaningful and competitive regular season,’’ UAlbany athletic director Mark Benson said. “What does that look like for your conference championship? … It’s too early to tell, but we’re trying to prepare for everything.”

Benson wasn’t giving up on having fans at sporting events this fall, including football games, even if it means they have to wear masks.

College of Saint Rose athletic director Lori Anctil was more dubious about her Division II institution allowing fans.

“I don’t see any institution in the area having fans, but some of it might be determined by the government,’’ she said. “I feel pretty strongly about, probably, unfortunately, not allowing our fans to attend.”

The prospect of lost ticket sales and sponsors has put some college athletic programs in severe financial difficulty during the pandemic. Schools such as Akron and East Carolina have cut sports. However, they also play major college football, which takes a major investment.

Siena doesn’t have a football team, and athletic director John D’Argenio said he didn’t think his school will eliminate teams. Siena has about 350 athletes, many of whom pay at least part of their own way.

“We have a good number of sports, but they drive enrollment to the institution,” D’Argenio said. “If we were to cut a sport, it doesn’t really make a whole lot of sense because you might save a little money on the surface, but then you’re going to lose some of the tuition and room and board revenue.”

D’Argenio added it’s too early to tell how much the pandemic will hurt his department financially without knowing how it will impact ticket sales and sponsorships for men’s basketball, which generates by far the most revenue.

Benson, whose program plays at the Football Championship Subdivision level, also said he doesn’t expect to cut teams. Using a three-year plan, Benson said he’s asking his coaches to look into less severe measures, such as playing fewer contests, reducing travel and cutting out overnight stays for road games.

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