TIFTON — The National Junior College Athletic Association curtailed its spring athletic seasons Monday.
That may seem like clarity, a definitive end to what had been speculated after multiple other sports and leagues across amateur and professional ranks had done the same. It is indeed one answer — a big one — but so much more will have to be hammered out, according to Abraham Baldwin Athletic Director and Assistant Dean of Students Alan Kramer.
Kramer said he was not surprised when the NJCAA announced sports were coming to an end.
“The NCAA set the stage,” he said. The NCAA, for four-year colleges, cancelled on March 12 as fears from COVID-19 began intensifying around the world. Four days later, the NJCAA followed suit, as did the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA).
ABAC had five sports active at the time of the announcement: softball, baseball, men’s golf and men’s and women’s tennis. Their seasons had already been put into limbo after the University System of Georgia suspended classes for two weeks on March 12 for all 26 public colleges under its watch.
The speed at which news has changed regarding the coronavirus has been breakneck. Kramer had not been sure of the day of the NJCAA’s announcement. Told Friday that it happened Monday, he said, “four days ago seems so far away.”
Monday should have been much different news for Kramer, and for ABAC athletics.
The Stallions were scheduled to begin their Georgia Collegiate Athletic Association (GCAA) schedule at home against Gordon State. Games would have followed in Barnesville last Wednesday, with a doubleheader there set for March 19.
Everyone was rolling, said Kramer of the seasons lost.
Baseball was going into that Gordon date with a four-game winning streak, which included a sweep of Brewton-Parker’s junior varsity March 11. Brandon Reeder’s Stallions were in striking distance of .500 after a rough start, up to 10-12.
Softball, too, was in the midst of a breakthrough. Jennifer Walls’ Fillies had won two straight. They were one of the first teams hit by the University System closure as their GCAA opener was a March 13 doubleheader at South Georgia State. The cancellations leave ABAC as the defending GCAA champions for one year longer.
Dale White’s Stallions tennis team had been set to go to Georgia Southern on March 13. The Fillies played their last regular season matches there a few days prior. Kramer said that Larry Byrnes’ golf team had been looking good at the time of season’s end.
One decision has already been made by NJCAA: all spring sports athletes are being granted an extra year of eligibility.
Beyond that, Kramer said many more decisions will have to be made eventually.
Several affected athletes will finish their two-year degrees and move on to other schools, but ABAC was particularly loaded with freshmen in all sports. They will still have two years to play. So will the recruiting class ABAC is bringing in, 2020 high school graduates.
Only a certain number of uniforms are available and there is also the matter of funding for these athletes. Those are thoughts for other days, Kramer said.
“Ultimately, you have to live in the present,” he said.
A few students remain on campus. A University System directive also closed residence halls “with minimal exceptions for students unable to return home or who cannot find housing elsewhere.” Kramer said a few of those left include tennis players.
ABAC’s tennis teams are mostly international, with players hailing from places such as Italy, Brazil and France. Italy has suffered the most fatalities from the coronavirus.
Campus will stay quiet for some time. ABAC has cancelled all events through May 7. That includes homecoming activities such as the Gee Haw Whoa Back Rodeo and the Hall of Fame ceremony. A class had already been named. Kramer is hopeful of still holding the Hall of Fame later this year.
“Hopefully, we can come out of it stronger,” said Kramer