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App State AD on the coronavirus, student-athlete health and the Sun Belt's ongoing decisions

App State AD on the coronavirus, student-athlete health and the Sun Belt's ongoing decisions

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Doug Gillin isn't worried about the competitions right now. The Appalachian State athletics director highlighted two major concerns on Friday.

One, keep everyone associated within Mountaineers athletics -- administrators, coaches, student-athletes, etc. -- stay safe in the midst of the novel coronavirus outbreak. And two, make sure student-athletes are able to continue classwork from wherever they are after extended spring break ends.

When those two milestones are met, and intercollegiate athletics can finally pick up again, that’s when he can revert back to his normal, day-to-day focuses.

“All of our worries, we start everything with the health and safety of our student-athletes, so I’m very anxious for our softball team to get home tonight, as an example,” Gillin told the Journal. “We have a tennis team coming home, women’s golf team coming home, so that’s the immediate (worry).

“But worries for App State athletics? They would echo what the worries are for our nation in terms of health for everyone, and then we can figure the rest out.”

The Sun Belt Conference and App State athletics were forced to react, just like the rest of the sporting world, on Thursday to the nation’s growing pandemic. The Sun Belt opted to canceled the rest of its men’s and women’s basketball tournaments, as well as suspend all regular season and conference championship play until further notice.

App State already announced on Wednesday that spring break would be extended to March 23, allowing teachers to transition their classes from in-person instruction to other delivery methods.

Because of that, Gillin said, most Mountaineers student-athletes have gone home. The ones that haven’t still have access to the university and dining halls, as well as the athletics building. Athletics staff, according to Gillin, will gradually move more-and-more toward working in the office as needed pending on how long this hiatus lasts.

Gillin said the Sun Belt was actually holding a call Thursday when the NCAA announced the cancellations of winter and spring sports championships. The fate of spring sports caught the league a bit off guard.

“The winter sports, you could see coming because it was slowly NBA, conference championships, no spectators,” Gillin said. “. . . You started to see that ripple effect. I think the thing that I would say is we were being prepared for everything except for cancelling all of the spring championships.”

Gillin also mentioned that the Sun Belt will have another call on Monday to assess three topics: the suspension of play, recruiting and potential practice schedules going forward.

The NCAA took care of the second one Friday, announcing that there would be a recruiting dead period until April 15.

As far as the indefinite suspension of play, the Sun Belt will continue to have ongoing conversations if play ever resumes. Best case scenario, spring sports could make a late return. Worst case, play doesn’t return at all. But that’s why, Gillin said, the Sun Belt opted to suspend for the time being, as opposed to cancelling outright.

“We decided to press pause and see what the future holds before taking the final step of cancelling everything,” Gillin said. “. . . if all of a sudden spring sports came back at X date, it could look like some spring series, or it could look like a championship.”

And with practice, it comes down to when an assortment of health advisers -- be them the experts from the NCAA, Watauga County or the Center for Disease Control and Prevention.

That’s also when App State will get to make its decision on remaining football spring practices, and the open practice day for fans originally scheduled for March 21, and the likelihood of those going on.

App State has held 11 of its 15 practices. The last four were scheduled for the 17th, 18th, 20th and 21st. Gillin didn’t know the fate of those just yet, but he alluded that they would not follow that schedule.

“I really see us two weeks before, if we were to practice, could be three weeks out if we were to practice, that we’d even consider it,” Gillin said.


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