When they learned of Kutztown University’s decision Wednesday to opt out of fall and winter sports because of the coronavirus pandemic, Golden Bears football coach Jim Clements and men’s basketball coach Bernie Driscoll were not surprised.
“We’ve been discussing the possibility that this might happen,” Driscoll said. “Given the parameters of how things are in this country and how bad it’s getting, it was the right decision.”
Kutztown’s announcement came several hours after the Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference announced it was canceling the conference’s regular season and postseason for fall sports during the 2020-21 academic year.
“While we know this decision is disappointing to our student-athletes and coaches who work so hard year-round to prepare for their seasons,” KU president Dr. Kenneth S. Hawkinson said, “this decision is in the best interest of the health and wellness of Golden Bear athletics and the entire campus community.
“We will continue to closely monitor the pandemic and medical advances in testing and treatments in the weeks ahead as we consider conducting a traditional spring sports season.”
Both Clements and Driscoll said they hope Kutztown’s spring teams can play in 2021 because they already lost the 2020 season.
“The main priority was to make sure that those kids in spring sports get a chance to play,” Clements said.
Kutztown joins West Chester as the only PSAC schools to cancel their fall and winter seasons.
The KU fall sports affected are men’s and women’s cross country, field hockey, football, women’s golf, women’s soccer and women’s volleyball.
Kutztown’s winter sports impacted are men’s and women’s basketball, women’s bowling, women’s swimming, men’s and women’s indoor track and field and wrestling.
Hawkinson also said the university is developing a plan to allow the fall and winter teams to practice in the spring and possibly play a limited number of non-PSAC sanctioned scrimmages and competitions.
“We’re just hoping we get a chance to practice,” Clements said. “Hopefully we can have it more like a traditional spring, where we have X amount of practices with pads and contact. It’ll probably be 15 or 16 months since our guys will have actually had a helmet on.”
Matt Santos, Kutztown’s vice president for university relations and athletics, said Kutztown’s athletic administration leadership met last week and discussed the rising COVID-19 numbers across the country.
“We felt that there wasn’t enough progress at this time for us to be able to compete in January in fall or winter athletics,” Santos said. “We’re heading into the cold and flu seasons. Ultimately, we didn’t advance far enough in this environment to say, ‘Let’s cut it loose and go.’ ”
Santos said the high cost of testing also was a consideration. According to NCAA requirements, all athletes must be tested for COVID-19 upon returning to campus and before each competition.
“The estimate for us to sponsor all 21 sports in the spring with NCAA testing was about $750,000,” he said. “For an NCAA Division II school, that is enormous. We think trying to put our resources into the spring sports was the way to go.”
The PSAC presidents put off a decision on winter sports until next week, but they voted to proceed with competition in 2021 in spring sports.
They also said that if six or more institutions commit to participating in any of the fall sports, the conference would reinstate a championship season. But that doesn’t appear likely, according to one source.
Kutztown has reported 376 cases of coronavirus since Aug. 24. Twenty-five of them are active, including 24 students and one employee. Santos said that the cases at Kutztown are rising this month and that most of them have been traced to off-campus activities.
As planned, Kutztown will go completely to online learning after Nov. 20. University officials have asked the 2,100 students who live on campus to move out of residence halls by Nov. 25. Remaining classes and final exams this semester will be virtual.
“This is the smartest thing to do,” Driscoll said about KU opting out of fall and winter sports. “I think December and January are going to be very tough months in our country with this virus. We have to make sure everybody’s healthy. This is something we don’t want to fool around with.”
In addition to Kutztown the other full-time members of the conference are Bloomsburg, California of Pennsylvania, Clarion, East Stroudsburg, Edinboro, Gannon, IUP, Lock Haven, Mansfield, Mercyhurst, Millersville, Pitt-Johnstown, Seton Hill, Shepherd, Shippensburg, Slippery Rock and West Chester.
Shepherd is the only PSAC school in West Virginia.