On Oct. 16, the North Coast Athletic Conference dashed the championship hopes of several Wittenberg Athletic teams when the conference announced the cancelation of conference play for the winter season. The announcement affects Men and Women’s Basketball, Swim and Dive and Indoor Track and Field. According to a statement, the NCAC canceled the season after several member schools, including Wittenberg, made significant changes to their academic calendars.
As part of the cancelation of the conference’s winter season, the NCAC is not allowing member institutions to have student athletes to campuses between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day. However, the NCAC is allowing individual members to make their own choices regarding non-conference play.
If [Wittenberg] are able to satisfy the NCAA Testing guidelines, I feel very strongly that most of our competitions would come against teams in the NCAC,” Bret Billhardt, Interim Athletic Director, said in the statement to The Torch on Monday. The NCAA’s COVID-19 Testing Guidelines requires athletes be tested for COVID-19 three-times-a-week during regular season play. During preseason play, the NCAA guidelines suggest weekly testing for athletes.
While awaiting Wittenberg to satisfy the NCAA Testing Guidelines, Men’s Basketball Head Coach Matt Croci is attempting to keep both himself and his team focused on the aspects that they control.
“I am kind of in a wait and see on where we are going as a university right now. I am not involved in the decision to [play],” Croci said, “so I am narrowing my focus to the health [of] our guys, keeping them engaged, getting better in the gym and enjoying when we do get to practice.”
“The guys are disappointed … because it has been the second season we have had affected, so there was an extra layer of, ‘man, we couldn’t finish what we started and now we can’t even get the next one started,” said Croci of the team’s mood upon hearing the season was canceled.
The 2019-20 Men’s Basketball team had their season cut short by the COVID-19 pandemic on March 12, before they were set to face the Mount Union Purple Raiders in the Sweet Sixteen round of the NCAA Tournament on March 13.
While disappointed about the cancelation of the conference season, Croci along with Brian Neal, Head Coach of Women’s Basketball and Noah Moran, Head Coach of Swim and Dive were hopefully to compete in non-conference games both within the NCAC and beyond if allowed by Billhardt and the University.
“We are certainly looking at every option that we can to have some competition,” Neal said.
Swim and Dive have already begun to compete as they prepare to host a virtual meet this weekend on Saturday, Oct. 31. However, Moran was hopeful about allowing his team a chance at competing at the end of the season.
“We won’t have a conference meet, but we will figure out a way to a season ending event whether virtual or with another team,” Moran said.
In addition to canceling conference play for the winter season, the NCAC prevented member institutions from having student-athletes return to campus for practices or other athletic-related activity between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day. This limitation on student-athletes decreases the opportunity for non-conference play according to Croci.
“That’s the time when we would be able to find non-conference games and when we are not allowed to [play], it puts all your contests right into January, February and most of the other leagues are going to be playing themselves,” Croci said, “There is no guarantee that there are slots available by the time our schools get up and running to play games in January.”