Matt Allen has heard the rumors, as have his teammates.
So when Michigan State manager Mel Tucker called the entire squad to the Duffy Daugherty Building’s indoor court mid-practice on August 11, Allen teased the bad news that was quickly delivered. The big ten canceled all fall sports, with the possibility of playing in the spring, due to the coronavirus pandemic.
“A lot of the kids were just a little shocked at first and didn’t really believe it,” Allen, a fifth-year senior center, said during a Zoom call with reporters Wednesday.
The decision led to the conclusion of a season that was in jeopardy since the NCAA canceled all remaining winter sports championships in March, including the men’s basketball tournament and all spring sports championships. The Big Ten was the first Power Five conference to cancel the fall football season (the Pac-12 followed on the same day), and Commissioner Kevin Warren cited health and safety concerns.
According to Johns Hopkins University, COVID-19 has killed more than 821,000 people worldwide, including more than 179,000 in the United States.
“The Big Ten had to make a decision,” said Allen, “and I think it was the right decision at the end of the day just to keep everyone safe and healthy.”
This decision, however, has been questioned by some players, coaches and parents. Warren was criticized for not being transparent about the trial and voting, although he said the presidents and chancellors of Big Ten were “overwhelmingly” in support of not playing this fall. None of the four Michigan State players who spoke to reporters on Wednesday – Allen, senior cornerback Dominique Long, senior linebacker Antjuan Simmons, and Redshirt junior quarterback Rocky Lombardi – expressed opposition to the decision.
“At the end of the day, I think no one can be really too angry about the decision made because safety should be a top priority,” said Long. “So we understand why they did what they did. … There is a good reason why our season would have been delayed. Soccer is a contact sport, so obviously it’s an easy way to spread a virus in a way. “
There was frustration with the process and a lack of responses given to players, especially as the season seemed closer to the start. The NCAA is giving all fall sports athletes an additional year of eligibility and an extra year to complete it, but that ruling wasn’t handed down until Friday.
“It was just the fact that the information was taking so long to reach us that was the problem,” Simmons said. “I think people would have been fine with any decision, whether we canceled it or had a season. It was just the fact that it arrived on 11 August instead of before the camp or early August. Everyone would have time to prepare instead of holding the whole conference in practice, going through the workouts, doing whatever they should be doing to prepare for the season and then, with a snap of the fingers, we are told that “I don’t have a season.”
After spending three months at home, Michigan State players returned to campus in mid-June ahead of volunteer training and an extended summer program. The Spartans started the drop camp on August 7, but the following day the Big Ten announced training restrictions, preventing teams from using the pads. And just four days after Michigan State started practicing, the Big Ten pulled the plug.
“I wanted to play,” Simmons said. “I strongly believe that everyone wanted to play, it’s just the fact that the conference couldn’t give us everything we needed and provide us with everything we needed to have a safe environment in which to play football. That’s how I got it. I understand where Commissioner Warren and the rest of the conference came from with the postponement of the season ”.
By the time the Big Ten canceled the fall season, Michigan State’s roster was already small. Four players – starting far defender Jacub Panasiuk, senior starting right tackle Jordan Reid, redshirt freshman linebacker Marcel Lewis and real freshman offensive lineman Justin Stevens – all have publicly given up on the season due to concerns over COVID-19.
“We had kids all over the place,” Simmons said. “At the end of the day, the guys showed up, they did what they had to do. The kids chose to make their own decisions. We had the option to give up or if we were to be here we had to be completely blocked. It couldn’t be that you came out here and did this and that. “
One of the main complaints among those who criticized Warren and the Big Ten was the timing. The August 5 conference announced revised schedules, 10 games, only conference for teams with the season starting on the weekend of September 5. The schedule was also designed with built-in flexibility to postpone the start of the season as late as September 26th. But it was completely canceled just six days after it was unveiled.
“When they released the schedule, it gave us a little bit of false hope, I’d say, as everyone was preparing for the season this fall and starting to get excited to play soccer again and go back to Spartan Stadium,” he said. Allen: “When they came out with the news, it was like another punch in the stomach, it took the air out of us for a second.”
After the fall season was canceled, Simmons said he gave himself 24 hours to be disappointed, so he moved on.
“It’s heartbreaking and it’s a little off-putting,” he said, “but at the same time, you can’t put your head down or be down.”
Allen said he took some food after he left practice on August 11 and then spent the rest of the day with roommate Connor Heyward, a young man in a red shirt who ran back. That night, Tucker held a video conference with the players and their parents, explaining what would happen next, and it was … a 6 1/2 week strength and conditioning program started the next day.
“We will continue to push, we will continue to work because, regardless, we will be committed,” said Long. “Whenever that season comes, whenever we have the opportunity to show what we have, we will do it to the best of our ability. We have high goals, we have high expectations, so, in any case, we will work to the maximum every day and we will try to show our talents, achieve our goals “.
The Big Ten hasn’t announced details on a spring season, though Michigan state athletic director Bill Beekman said the goal would be for it to be designed in such a way as to give players enough free time for an entire fall season of 2021.. Iowa sports director Gary Barta said the conference is reviewing January and February matches in the domed stadiums. Meanwhile, players will continue to wait and work.
“How can we continue to improve because one day we will play,” said Lombardi. “Maybe it’s not this fall, maybe it’s not this spring, but in the end we’ll play.”
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