The University of Maryland, Baltimore County Athletics Department suspended all practices for the remainder of the in-person portion of the fall semester on Nov. 9. All sports except for men’s and women’s basketball held their last official practices on Friday, Nov. 13, and most will not return until the start of the spring semester in January. UMBC Athletics staff and coaches made the decision to move the last day of practice from the week of Thanksgiving to last Friday as a result of the university seeing 13 new COVID-19 cases between Oct. 27 and Nov. 10, two of which were in Athletics.
“[The decision] came from the coaches, it came from the sports medicine staff, it came from the senior staff,” said UMBC Athletic Director Brian Barrio. “I think we all agreed that it was the right approach and that we had a really successful fall. Now, we’re going to turn our attention to getting basketball off the ground and our spring sports.”
Barrio explained that the decision stemmed from a conversation between the Athletics administration and the head coaches of every sport that occurred Friday, Nov. 6. He stated that all coaches agreed that the extra two weeks of in-person practices was not worth the possibility of Athletics staff and students contracting COVID-19 and having to quarantine instead of enjoying their Thanksgiving break with their families.
“We talked to all the coaches about [whether it is worth that extra week or two of practice] and across the board, they felt that the students have worked so hard in such a tough environment to keep us on the field and keep us training,” said Barrio. “And it’s all been such a success that let’s just move that finish line up a week and a half so that we know they’ll be able to go home and have the holiday with their families, which they deserve.”
Women’s basketball, men’s basketball, and swimming and diving are the only sports still allowed to practice and use UMBC Athletics facilities as they are the only three in-season sports.
“[Practicing] allows me to stick to my schedule, especially because, when I have a day without swimming, I kind of feel lost as in what I’m going to do and I somewhat lose my structure to the day,” said junior media and communications major and swimmer Madeleine Songer. “So still being able to have this helps me stay on task and finish strong in my schoolwork leading up to the holidays.”
Despite still having voluntary practice, the swim and dive team had to cancel a home meet last week due to the rise in COVID-19 cases at UMBC and across Maryland. Songer understands the reason for the cancellation and said it was the smart decision to ensure everyone’s safety, but is still disappointed not to compete.
“I will say it is hard to have come in August with the expectation that we were going to compete and getting in shape to compete and now we have to wait another two or three months until we do so,” said Songer. “It’s like having a carrot dangled in front of you and you work so hard to get it and, when you reach to grab it, it is taken away.”
Barrio explained that the Athletic Department’s plans factored in the possibility of an increase of cases heading into the winter. He stated the decision to end practices early as a result of the uptick in COVID-19 cases did not come as a surprise to the department. If anything, Barrio stated that he and the coaches felt like it was a common-sense decision to keep everyone safe.
With the cancellation of practices, most sports look to Winter Session as the next time they can practice. In a regular year, sports like men’s lacrosse and track and field would spend all of Winter Session on-campus practicing. However, Barrio explained that the Athletic Department is still determining when facilities would open back up to student athletes.
“We’re still focusing on what the right balance is between giving athletes enough time to prepare for their season and minimizing the number of people who are on campus over the break period,” said Barrio. “So we’re going to strike the right balance, but it certainly will be a little bit later than normal.”