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Coronavirus wreaks havoc on NCAA sports: athletes, coaches 'trying to process what all this means’

What began as a trickle Wednesday turned into a deluge Thursday as several conferences and universities followed the Ivy League’s lead and canceled the remainder of their spring sports seasons — including men’s and women’s lacrosse — before the NCAA did the same because of concerns over the coronavirus pandemic.

One day after the Ivy League canceled its spring sports, the Patriot League did the same Thursday morning, ruling that its decision will be effective Monday. They were joined Thursday afternoon by the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference and then Utah and UMBC.

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Then the Power 5 conferences — the Atlantic Coast Conference, the Southeastern Conference, the Pac-12 Conference, the Big 12 Conference and the Big Ten Conference — announced one-by-one that they would be suspending their spring sports competitions.

The Middle Atlantic Conference said it was going on hiatus from March 16 through March 30, while the Colonial Athletic Association, the Northeast Conference, the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference and the American Athletic Conference announced suspension of its spring sports events.

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And one day after Hampton suspended its spring sports indefinitely, Johns Hopkins did the same Thursday morning through April 12.

Then Thursday afternoon, the NCAA canceled all remaining winter and spring championships, including the men’s and women’s basketball tournaments.

“In my career as a player and a coach, I’ve never experienced anything quite like this and anything that has happened this quickly,” Blue Jays coach Dave Pietramala said Thursday afternoon. “But given the nature of what’s going on around the world, it isn’t mind-boggling to think that people are reacting so quickly to ensure the safety of people. So that doesn’t surprise me at all.”

Added Towson women’s coach Sonia LaMonica through a university spokesman: “It’s strange times that we’re living in. I think ultimately this is a lot bigger than any one person, or team, or program, or conference. It’s heartbreaking, for obvious reasons, particularly for our seniors.”

The coronavirus, which is also known as COVID-19, was labeled a pandemic Wednesday by the World Health Organization. The respiratory disease has spawned 125,000 cases worldwide and contributed to more than 4,600 deaths, according to the WHO. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has reported 1,215 cases and 36 deaths in the U.S.

Before the ACC announced its decision to suspend spring sports, Cavaliers coach Lars Tiffany said he would have no objections if his team’s season was canceled or suspended.

“Our men want to play,” he said Thursday morning. “All of us want to compete and coach. But in the end, I want to make sure that everyone knows that if the decision was made to suspend team travel and competitions, we would fully understand and not disagree with that. Doing what’s best for the community, the commonwealth and the country is the priority.”

The pace at which the conferences and universities moved to address concerns about the disease might have startled the players, who are perhaps the biggest victims of the recent developments.

“With the suspension of the 2020 season, it’s a very trying time for spring sports in general and specifically our lacrosse program,” Towson men’s coach Shawn Nadelen said through a university spokesman. “You feel for the student-athletes, who put so much effort into it and balance so much throughout their career, specifically in the season with practices and lifting and travelling to go alongside the academics. We’re in the competitive part of our season; obviously very difficult and challenging for anyone to get a hold of it and understand it. We’re grateful that we had an opportunity and who knows what the near future holds.”

Pietramala said he informed the players of the university’s decision before they were scheduled to begin practicing Thursday morning.

“What I saw on a lot of their faces was processing,” he said. “They’re trying to process what all this means to them. … I told them that right now we just needed to make sure that we understood that all decisions were made with safety in mind and that we just have to wait and see what happens.”

Many conferences had announced earlier that spring competition would be limited to staffers, family members and essential personnel in an attempt to curb the spread of the coronavirus. Playing with no fans might have been an option, but Tiffany said he understood the more recent push to cancel or suspend spring sports.

“I understand what our men want to do, and I understand what our staff and I want to do,” he said. “But I also understand that if we’re understanding how serious the coronavirus is, it dictates taking extreme measures. So we’ll willing follow whatever decision is made by our fantastic leadership here.”

Pietramala said he told the players to stay on top of their academics, get healthy, and stay sharp with their skills after they leave campus for home. He said he and assistant coaches Bill Dwan and Bobby Benson would reach out to recruits via email, texts and calls and make preparations for the team’s next opponent on April 19, No. 19 Ohio State.

Whether the season will resume remains to be seen, but Pietramala said the underlying emphasis is life and health.

“There’s a much larger picture here than just winning and losing games, and I know that doesn’t make it any better, and my heart goes out to kids that are missing games, NCAA stuff, tournament stuff,” he said. “But there is a larger picture here that we all need to be concerned about.”

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