As the fall sports season inches closer, dominoes are beginning to fall.
All across the country last week, conferences canceled their fall sports seasons. The Ivy League was the first Division I conference to cancel fall athletics. The Patriot League, Atlantic 10 and Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference all followed suit, while others, like the Big Ten, announced the enforcement of conference-only fall schedules.
Within Ann Arbor’s Cliff Keen Arena, the Michigan volleyball team is keeping tabs on those dominoes. Though the team won’t formally report for its preseason until Aug. 10, many players have already voluntarily made their way back to Ann Arbor.
And as head coach Mark Rosen enters his 22nd year at the helm, a telling realization has set in.
“Coaches and athletic administrators, we’re planners,” Rosen said Thursday in an inerview with The Daily. “It’s what we do. We plan all the time. We plan for matches, we plan for practices, we plan everything. This is such a weird time because you plan, but you really don’t know what you’re planning for. So, as we’re going through this and we’re trying to create schedules and plans, we’ve kind of realized that there’s a lot of different pathways this could take.
“There’s been a lot of discussion about the fall being canceled potentially. So when those conferences did it, I don’t think I was surprised, but it certainly makes you realize this whole thing could be tumbling down pretty quickly. We just have to be understanding of that, we just have to know that’s a possibility.”
With the preseason on the horizon, the looming uncertainty casts an increasingly long shadow with each passing day. During the Wolverines’ team Zoom call on Wednesday, that all-encompassing sentiment lingered throughout the call.
“You just sense, every time we talk, (the players) are positive, they’re upbeat, they’re excited, they’re working hard, but there’s this little thread of doubt or negativity of what could happen,” Rosen said. “I think they’re handling it super well, but it’s hard. It’s hard to have that doubt. Everybody really, really wants to have a season, but we don’t know what’s going to happen.”
Since Michigan’s spring season was abruptly cut short on March 12 as a result of the Big Ten’s decision to suspend all athletic activities, the program has not convened in person. Some players left campus when the University transitioned to virtual learning, while others remained in Ann Arbor — despite the closure of team facilities.
Through it all, one of Rosen’s program pillars has prevailed.
“I’ve been impressed with how they’re focused on the things we can control and not focused on the things we can’t control,” Rosen said. “We talk about that in our program all the time even in a normal year because we think that’s a really healthy way to look at life, but I think they’ve really been very good about that because we know there are so many things outside our control right now.”
But they can’t control what’s going on in the country. As the COVID-19 pandemic rages on, each passing day plays a role in determining the fate of fall sports. And right now, things are trending in the wrong direction.
According to Stadium’s Brett McMurphy, NCAA President Mark Emmert told the NCAA Council fall championships would “likely” be canceled if a decision needed to be made on July 16. With a final decision coming in the near future, that doubt appears warranted.
“Three weeks ago or two weeks ago, I would’ve been like, ‘Hey, this is going in a really good direction,’ ” Rosen said. “And now all of a sudden, this last week, it hasn’t been so good, so you just don’t know.
“… It’s interesting because it’s changing so often. People think one standard is good enough and as you continue through it, you’re like, ‘Hey, wait, we’ve got to raise that standard.’ So, I think everybody’s very open.”
But even as the optics change quickly, the bottom line remains intact.
“Whatever the best science tells us,” Rosen said, “we’re going to do that.”