UWA athletics reacts to sports being suspended amid coronavirus outbreak

Published: Mar. 14, 2020 at 11:48 PM CDT
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When the NBA announced the season was suspended on March 12, it appeared to be the start of a chain reaction.

Soon after, both the NCAA men's and women's basketball tournaments were cancelled, with many men's conference tournaments unable to finish.

Along with the NBA, the NHL, MLS, NASCAR, and Major League Baseball suspended competition while the PGA Tour announced Thursday evening it was canceling several tournaments and suspending operations until the week of the Masters.

As many commissioners, presidents and owners across professional sports leagues scrambled to alert the public of such suspensions, the same was occurring at the University of West Alabama.

UWA athletic director Bobby Wallace shared Friday how quickly he had to alert coaches of the university's own athletic suspensions.

"All of this has happened in a short period of time, especially with the magnitude of what has happened," Wallace explained. "I've been on conference calls all the time the last week days...for the Gulf South Conference (GSC) and specifically West Alabama, this decision has basically happened over the last 3-4 days."

Wallace explained how it was a short period of time to go from a weekend full of events, including the university's "Super Tiger Day" which featured the spring football game, to no athletic events whatsoever.

Super Tiger Day also included a three-game series against Delta State for softball and baseball on UWA's campus. Both programs not only saw this weekend's games being cancelled, but all games for an "indefinite period".

Head baseball coach Gary Rundles, who won his 1000th collegiate game as a head coach last week, is dealing with the potential of his season being cut short after only 20 games.

"I've been doing this 43 years and this is the first time I've ever faced anything where it just completely stops you in your tracks," Rundles said. "The disappointment comes not for me but for my players - the guys that go out and work hard every day and commit themselves to their sport. Now all the sudden they can't play it anymore so it was a tough day."

The baseball roster has 11 seniors, all of whom have been left wondering if they will be able to finish their final season of eligibility.

The NCAA said in a statement Friday that it's exploring an eligibility relief for all student-athletes who participate in spring sports.

"Details of eligibility relief will be finalized at a later time," the NCAA said. "Additional issues with NCAA rules must be addressed, and appropriate governance bodies will work through those in the coming days and week."

Coach Rundles advocated for such idea.

"We hope that if this is the end of our season, the the NCAA will come in and grant these guys another opportunity to play," Rundles said. "To have that option would be a great thing for these seniors."

While football is not a spring sport, head coach Brett Gilliland's program has been effected by the athletic suspension due to spring practices being cut short.

"We're missing out on about four practices. We were able to get 11 practices in so we're excited about that," Gilliland said. "It's a bummer not getting to showcase a spring game in front of fans but you look at the baseball team and softball teams and what all they're losing and the seniors that are losing out on games and that's a big deal."

One of the biggest obstacles that UWA's coaches are facing is ensuring players are keeping up with their workouts even though practices and matches have been postponed.

Coach Gilliland shared what he is doing specifically with the football program to make sure they are keeping up with their education and spring workouts.

"The reality is players are still required to pass their classes, first anf foremost that's most important," Coach Gilliland said. "We have to give them a plan for what they can do on their own to stay in shape. There are things they are going to have to be motivated on their own to get done which is going to be hard."

While all sports are suspended for now, that may not be the case come the end of the month. Wallace shared the suspension is only "temporary" and the university will revisit it in "a few weeks".

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