BILLINGS -- What now? That's the question more and more colleges are facing in the face of canceled or suspended sports seasons due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Montana State Billings coaches and athletes learned good news, if you will, on Friday. Their fall campaigns, along with all Great Northwest Athletic Conference teams, are merely suspended with hopes of relaunching next spring. The GNAC Board of Directors voted unanimously in favor of the decision.
"As of today, MSUB is going to be in-person for class, so we’re planning to bring the student-athlete back as well," Yellowjackets athletic director Krista Montague told MTN Sports. "We’re planning to let them practice and train, maybe not as much or as hard as essentially if you’re not playing games.”
“I wouldn’t say I was surprised by it," said women's soccer coach Stephen Cavallo. "I think it helps knowing. I think the unknown causes more stress than knowing. It’s like, OK, these are the cards we're dealt, and now how do we make the most of it?“
And that’s exactly the plan: make the most of it fully intent on shifting fall sports to next spring.
Will it create some congestion on campus a few months from now? Absolutely. Will it be worth the wait? Absolutely.
"I think everyone would just be super excited to play again,“ Cavallo said.
Playing at all suddenly seems like a luxury for student-athletes. For Montague, juggling practice presumes to be one of the biggest challenges.
"I think the headaches are going to come in probably for us with facilities," she said. "If we’re trying to run all 16 sports in the spring at the same time when snow is on the ground, who has priority in the gyms and how does that work, and the weight room?”
“I’m glad I’m not on that scheduling committee, because I think that would be the toughest part. It’s just making sure there’s space for everyone," Cavallo said.
When asked if he'd mind coaching in the snow, Cavallo responded with a quick chuckle.
"No, I grew up in North Carolina," he laughed. "I’ve gotten used to it, though.“
In the meantime, as long as students are on campus, student-athletes will likely start practicing a few days before the start of classes.
On the flip side, coaches are already getting creative.
"We're going to have FedEx Cup-style point systems where you play different courses every week," said men's and women's golf coach Jeff Allen. "Different formats every week. We'll come up with a match-play bracket where we can do an individual match play, team match play. Anything we can do to get them competitive, working on their games, but not just having in be another round of golf."
Just a few months ago in March, Kevin Woodin's basketball women were able to finish their postseason. But the thought of COVID-19 striking two years ago when his Yellowjackets turned in that magical Elite 8 run?
"You know, I can't even imagine the heartbreak that would have been," he said. "But we do have to realize, as coaches and athletes, that we're a small part of this big pie."