Wabash College students will leave campus next week after the completion of one of the most unique semesters in the institution’s near 200-year existence.
The COVID-19 pandemic has put the traditional college experience on hold for both students and athletes at Wabash and hundreds of colleges and universities across the country, but the reality is Wabash was able to salvage some of the fall, and optimism is growing for a more normal spring semester.
“There are a number of Division III programs that have sent students and athletes home over the last several months, including within our conference,” Wabash athletic director Matt Tanney said. “I’m really proud of the fact that here we are in mid-November and we’ve navigated ourselves to a spot where we can close out the semester on campus and our students can have an on campus residential experience, and that goes well beyond athletics.”
Wabash and the North Coast Athletic Conference announced the cancelation of sanctioned winter sports championships in mid-October, along with a statement saying that official athletic practices and activities were canceled until at least Jan. 1.
With the news, Tanney and his coaches devised a plan to get athletes back to work on campus this fall with modified workouts. Something he believes has made a big difference.
“There’s still tremendous value in our students spending time with their teammates, their classmates, their coaches, and being in an athletic facility together and working out,” Tanney said. “Is it the way we would have drawn it up? No. Is it easy to do that without imminent competition? No. But we still feel like there’s a lot of value in having everybody together on campus and working out.”
Tanney says the return of athletics almost solely depends on the ability to test athletes.
“It’s a complex environment,” he said. “When you really simplify it as much as you can, as complicated as it is, it really does come down to testing. How can we move forward and compete in a way where we have adequate and reliable supply of testing?”
While Division I football has returned to the turf in recent weeks, Tanney says that’s like comparing apples and oranges when comparing it to schools like Wabash.
“It’s complicated, but the calculus at the Division I level is certainly different for Division III programs, which are less reliant on media rights and ticket sales as revenue sources,” he said. “Access to testing, of course, remains a significant factor, but the decision-making process at Big 10 programs is simply not the same in the NCAC, among private liberal arts colleges. It’s two different ecosystems.”
Tanney and his peers at the Divison III level are optimistic that sports could return to their campuses in the spring, but it’s an ever-evolving situation.
For now, Wabash winter athletes like senior basketball star Jack Davidson and senior wrestler Kyle Hatch are hoping to leave their final mark as Little Giants — while also having a realistic understanding of the situation.
“Our athletes are very competitive,” Tanney said. “They want to win. They want to be on the court, and they want to be on the field. The absence of competition is certainly jarring, it’s certainly difficult, and certainly painful.
I think all that being said they have a very realistic view of their athletic careers and where it fits in the big picture, but that doesn’t make it hurt any less.”