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Coaches, Athletes At UMass Tread New Ground After Spring Sports Cancellation

UMass athletic director Ryan Bamford at his introductory press conference in March 2015.
Don Treeger
The Republican / masslive.com/photos
UMass athletic director Ryan Bamford at his introductory press conference in March 2015.

The novel coronavirus has canceled spring sports. It's a new situation for the athletes at UMass Amherst, and for fans. 

UMass athletic director Ryan Bamford joins us to talk about the impact of the pandemic.

Ryan Bamford, UMass: It's been a challenge in that we had high hopes for those teams, and I know our student athletes are disappointed.

But given what we're going through as a country, certainly everybody looks at that, and understands where we are. Nonetheless, we're disappointed that we haven't been able to complete competition.

But we have, and are, in the midst of completing our academic semester, and doing that remotely, and helping our student athletes finish in a really strong, positive fashion.

For some of your spring student athletes, this was supposed to be their senior year, and they could be hoping for the opportunity to get seen — maybe perhaps even get that one shot at playing professionally. Is that completely off the table for them?

Our spring sports student athletes will all get a year of eligibility retained or reinstated. The seniors will have the opportunity to come back and participate either at UMass or at another institution if they want to perhaps pursue a graduate degree, or go somewhere else to finish up academically.

So they have been granted that year of eligibility back. That is a very positive development from the NCAA. And we're working through what that looks like for UMass sports teams, spring sports teams, for 2020-21.

I imagine that if you had a number of those current fourth-year players come back for that extra year of eligibility, that would take the place on the bench of an incoming freshman, maybe?

Yeah. What it does is it really challenges what we need to do from a roster standpoint, going into next year. And it really has a cumulative effect beyond next year, because all of our student athletes have gained that year of eligibility back.

So if they want to take a fifth year, and participate here at UMass, that could impact future classes of recruits. It'll certainly impact our scholarship numbers.

But after next year, we hope to have a plan, in terms of managing what the rosters are for those programs, and how we're going to build them strategically, from a scholarship standpoint. So it creates, mechanically, a little bit of a challenge — but certainly, under the circumstances, a challenge that we accept, and we'll do everything we can to support the participation for those young people that have earned it, that have worked hard. And we'll get that year back.

Are coaches still checking in with players?

Yes, daily. Yup.

How's that going?

Good. It's some just regular one-to-one phone calls, just checking in. Obviously, a lot of text messaging going on. And then at least weekly, if not every couple of days, they have conference calls that our coaches set up with their teams, and they're talking through all sorts of different things, and trying to stay positive.

I would say 95% of what they're discussing and connecting on has nothing to do with sports. It's just about their own health, about how they're eating, about how they're doing mentally, about how they're doing academically, what they're doing to challenge themselves in this time. And they're just connecting with them on a human level about, you know, where they are with their family and some of the things that they can look at as positives as we come out of this.

It's been a totally different dimension of coaching and teaching and mentorship and leadership for our coaches, but they've absolutely embraced it. We've got a great group, and they've done well to engage our student athletes, even from afar.

And are you looking forward to next fall season, or perhaps even past that?

I'm looking forward when I can get back with our coaches and student athletes in the flesh, and give them a hug, and tell them how much we care about them, and want to support them and literally put our arms around them.

That's why I got into college athletics. That's why our coaches did, as well — to develop young people. And we continue to develop them in different ways under the current circumstances.

But it'll be great to be back with them in the flesh, here, hopefully in the coming months. And if we can get back to sporting normalcy, and get into a season next fall, that would be, certainly, a welcome transition for us.

Getting back into school after Labor Day is something that we look forward to, and hope that we have the opportunity to do that.

Carrie Healy hosts the local broadcast of "Morning Edition" at NEPM. She also hosts the station’s weekly government and politics segment “Beacon Hill In 5” for broadcast radio and podcast syndication.
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