East Carolina coaches left a meeting Friday morning with athletics director Jon Gilbert and had unprecedented and likely unwanted freedom with their time and schedules.
The nationwide suspension of all sports because of the coronavirus outbreak includes practices and team workouts at ECU until further notice. The Pirates and other college football teams are waiting to see when they might be able to begin spring workouts that are annually important for on-field player development.
Gilbert said Friday he encouraged Pirate players to go home and be away from campus.
The NCAA canceled all remaining winter and spring sports championships, one day after the Pirates announced senior Gustavo Santos and freshman Rodrigo Romero qualified for the NCAA swimming and diving championships scheduled for March 25-28 in Indianapolis. ECU freshman Kristen Stege had already qualified in the women’s division of the NCAA meet that is now canceled.
Coaches can still work, which will likely consist of a lot of recruiting — only electronically — and other duties while isolated from their players. March is typically an important month for on-campus visits by football prospects, but not this year.
“Obviously there is no organized practice, competition or team functions, so (coaches) can come into the office if they choose or they can work from home if they choose,” Gilbert said during a Friday news conference. “There are no team-related activities, nor can they recruit (in person) on or off campus. They can come into the office and make recruiting calls, but no formalized activity other than that.”
There is not a timetable yet for when teams might be able to return to practice. A release Thursday afternoon by the American Athletic Conference said the league will continue to evaluate risks associated with intercollegiate athletics.
“It’s been a difficult 24 hours in college athletics, to say the least,” Pirate fifth-year softball coach Courtney Oliver tweeted Friday. “Everyone has invested much time, energy and heart into what they do. Can’t wait for the day I get to take the field with (ECU softball) and see all these smiles again.”
ECU second-year football coach Mike Houston’s last tweet was March 9. Spring practice was scheduled to begin Tuesday.
Speculation has swirled about teams playing games at some point, even if the end goal of competing in an NCAA championship event is not available this academic year. Like with the many factors associated with what has transpired in sports, Gilbert is monitoring how or if that might develop into a reality.
“I think we let this run its course a little bit to determine, does more information become available where we can make a decision on that,” he said. “Obviously, that decision would start at the conference level. ... I am hopeful that things will return to normal at some point in the near future.”
The transition from late Wednesday night, when Utah Jazz player Rudy Gobert was diagnosed with coronavirus and the NBA quickly suspended its season, to Thusrday afternoon’s slew of corresponding cancellations and postponements, created a whirlwind 24 hours in sports. On Friday, the Masters golf tournament, which was scheduled for April 9-12, was postponed.
Gilbert said Friday that ECU athletics is on a two-week period of limited workforce. The department will be evaluating and adjusting accordingly on how best to operate.
“There is not an owner’s manual of how to deal with situations like this,” Gilbert said. “You rely on relationships, and I’ve talked to several ADs across the country to see how exactly they are doing and how they are handling each specific situation. It’s a fluid process. … It’s a surreal experience for everyone.”