Emerson coaches prepare for unique challenges in a semester without fall sports

With only a month left until the season begins, the college’s decision to cancel fall sports due to the outbreak of COVID-19 last week left coaches in a wash of uncertainty and led to a mix of reactions from the driving force of the athletic department.  

The entire athletic department, including the coaches, trainers, and fitness center employees, gathered on a Zoom call with Athletic Director and Assistant Dean Patricia Nicol on Tuesday morning to address the cancellation of the fall competitive season.

Coaches then received a letter explaining the decision from Nicol and Vice President and Dean of Campus Life Jim Hoppe to distribute to student athletes the same day.

Now that the decision has been made, coaches are waiting on more detailed information regarding socially-distanced training guidelines and modified practice schedules. 

Head women’s soccer coach David Suvak said he anticipated the college would make this decision for the safety and health of the student athletes. 

“With all of the uncertainty and the issues going on across the country, particularly in Florida and California, I think this was a good choice for Emerson College to make the decision that they made,” he said in a phone interview with The Beacon. 

Head cross country coach Brandon Fox reminded his student athletes that the situation is fluid and that things can possibly change at any moment. 

“Nothing is set in stone yet but we are still waiting for a modified practice schedule and pandemic guidelines,” he said in a phone interview with The Beacon. “I am just trying to keep my team together as much as possible.” 

Fox said, if practices are canceled, he will keep in touch with all of his athletes and make sure the seniors get the recognition they deserve. He also plans to make sure all student athletes sign a waiver that prevents them from losing eligibility to participate in the fall 2021 season. 

Head women’s volleyball coach Benjamin Read said, even though his coaching staff and team anticipated the cancellation of the fall season, it’s difficult to unpack all of the emotions. On the same day as the announcement, Read said he gathered his team and coaching staff for a Zoom meeting to address the situation.

“It’s just one of those things that you see coming but, if you asked me four weeks ago, I was still optimistic about having a season,” Read said in a phone interview with The Beacon.   

Suvak said he scheduled a Zoom meeting for next Tuesday with his team and their parents to answer any further questions addressing the college’s decision.  

“We all are waiting for a plan with protocol instructions because of course we want the opportunity to be able to practice and train in a safe way,” he said. 

Read added that the staff received an email on July 16 reaffirming that no one will be laid off and can continue working unless the anticipated financial loss increases.  

“What I think is unique about Emerson is how small of a community we are which makes us feel like a family, definitely in our sport teams and in our staff as well,” Read said. “They don’t want to lay anyone off. It’s something very difficult to do, especially during a pandemic.”

Suvak has been involved in meetings with the Office of Student Affairs and said the college has stated that laying off anyone, including coaches, is not part of their budget cutting plan for the 2020-2021 academic year, Suvak said.

“I just hope that the goal of not laying off anyone continues and that I am able to continue my work at Emerson,” he said. “At the moment, I am being paid, and I hope that continues.”

Both Suvak and Fox said the coaches will focus more on recruiting student athletes for the class of 2025 and 2026 if training gets canceled. The fate of high school sports is still uncertain, but coaches plan to continue to recruit online. Some will ask student athletes and their club teams to send them game footage, and Suvak said he will use Zoom meetings to communicate with high school athletes and their families.   

“We don’t know if high school seniors and juniors are allowed to play, but we are going to try our best to get a pool of interested student athletes,” Fox said. “There are multiple cross country student athlete static websites that I will be using to determine my pool.” 

After the men’s volleyball spring season was cut short, Read said recruiting became a lot easier to handle because high school students were more available. 

“We have done a very good job searching for recruits and students that are interested,” he said. “It has been actually easier to communicate with the student athletes.”

Read said the visitor center is currently closed, and there is a chance it will remain closed for the rest of the year. Instead, he has referred prospective students to the virtual tours on YouTube. 

“Recruiting has gone very well so far,” he said. “The only bump on the road is that we don’t know when Emerson is going to allow visitors on campus. We talked to the administration and they are not sure if the visitor center will reopen this fall.” 

Read added that the cancellation of the fall season brought a lot of emotions especially after the previous successful season of the women’s volleyball team.

“The decision really didn’t settle in with me until after I had conversations with everyone on the team,” he said. “I actually have a newborn and three year old so it’s never quiet at home. It wasn’t until I was going to bed that the final decision hit me.”

Read faced many questions Tuesday evening about how the cancellation of fall sports and the pandemic were going to impact his family. 

“It comes across almost as selfish when you start thinking about how it affects your family when we have to think about so many other people’s safety,” he said.