With the March 16 announcement from the Ohio Valley Conference that all athletics competition would be canceled for the rest of the academic year due to the threat of the Coronavirus (COVID-19), the Eastern Kentucky University baseball team is striving to stay positive while concentrating on the safety of their players.
Head coach Edwin Thompson said it was a wave of emotions for his program going from a strong start to the baseball season to suddenly having the season canceled due to COVID-19.
“It affects a lot of people in a lot of different areas,” Thompson said.
The decision by the OVC to cancel the rest of the season was not a surprise for Thompson.
“I think the first reaction was that we kind of knew it was coming,” Thompson said. “It wasn’t much of a surprise. Like anything you’re hopeful that they suspend it and then pick it back up.”
Thompson said when the OVC suspended athletic competition on March 12 he could not tell his team much. At the time, he did not know much other than their season was suspended until April 3.
“Each day that went by and more and more things canceled and Major League Baseball canceled, I was like ‘there’s no way we’re going to be postponed.’ It was more like a reality that it’s not going to happen,” Thompson said.
Thompson said that this decision by the OVC was disappointing, but the safety of his players and fans are more important.
“The players are competitive, the coaches are competitive, it’s just the nature of athletics,” Thompson said. “I think disappointment in some ways and I talk to them [players] that it’s bigger than baseball. It’s not a matter of us not playing games. We have to make sure everyone is safe.”
The threat of COVID-19 is ongoing and a developing situation every day. Thompson said it was important for him to speak with his players about how to handle these difficult situations in life.
“Something like this is historic and it’s unknown so your emotions are going to be in a lot of different ways but for my guys we try to talk to them about ‘what is life?’ Life happens and how are you going to deal with it?” Thompson said.
“Things happen and especially in baseball,” Thompson said. “People are going to throw you a curveball and this is a big curveball.”
The Colonels had a 12-2 record and were on an eight game winning streak when the OVC made the ruling to cancel all spring sports.
“I felt like we were going to have a good season,” Thompson said. “Internally we thought that we were one of the best teams in the league coming into the year. We were winning in a lot of different ways.”
EKU beat No. 11 LSU, 2-0, on Friday, Feb. 21 at Alex Box Stadium in Baton Rouge.
The win was the fifth for the Colonels over a top-30 ranked team in the last five seasons. EKU improved to 4-0 for the first time since 2001 with the victory.
“I think from a program stand point that is pretty consistent, beating teams that on paper we’re not supposed to beat. When we have good players and a good system I think we can play against anybody,” Thompson said.
“We hadn’t started conference play yet and we talked about that as a new season, but I felt it was one that our guys were prepared for. They put in the effort and our coaching staff did a good job preparing our guys,” Thompson said.
A concern surrounding this decision to cancel the season was whether or not seniors would be allowed another year of eligibility.
On Friday, March 13, the NCAA announced eligibility relief was found to be appropriate for student-athletes who participated in spring sports this year.
“The unknown part of everything for our sport is the Major League Baseball draft and how they are going to restructure our roster size,” Thompson said. “There are a lot of questions that the NCAA would have to figure out.”
According to a release from the OVC, council leadership agreed that eligibility relief is appropriate for all Division I student-athletes who participated in spring sports. Details of eligibility relief will be finalized at a later time.
Thompson is excited that the NCAA is allowing players to have another year of eligibility.
“A lot of our guys will be back,” Thompson said. “They know that they are going to have an opportunity to compete still so that’s all they can ask for.”