Benedict adjusting to new norm without football this fall

The Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Conference decided to suspend fall athletics on Thursday, affecting multiple teams including football.

According to Benedict College, the Tigers still will honor all the scholarships for the student-athletes affected in those sports.

This decision was primarily predicated on the overarching concern shared by all SIAC member institutions regarding the health and safety of our student-athletes, coaches, students, staff, fans and other campus stakeholders. When the initial decision was made by the SIAC to suspend intercollegiate athletics last spring, the conference harbored a measure of cautious optimism in the hope that meaningful progress would occur in connection with the continued spread of coronavirus.

As of today, and as COVID-19 infections surge throughout the country in general and the southeastern region in particular, it would be difficult to fairly and responsibly conclude that meaningful progress has been made at this time.

“This was a difficult decision, but it was the correct decision at this time,” said Benedict College Director of Athletics Willie Washington. “At Benedict, the health, safety and well-being of our students is always our top priority.”

The Benedict football team was set to open the season under first-year coach Chennis Berry. The volleyball team, under long-time coach Gwendolyn Rouse, was returning 10 players from last year’s squad that went 22-12. The men’s and women’s cross-country teams, under the direction of coach Frank Hyland, were perennial contenders for the conference championships. Last year’s men’s team won the SIAC title, while the women were runners-up.

“While I am heartbroken that our young men won’t get the opportunity to compete this fall, the health and safety of our student-athletes is of paramount importance,” Berry said. “They have spent countless hours training in preparation for the season. I pray that we as a nation can stop the spread of the virus so that we can get back to some normalcy as quickly as possible and our program can continue our mission of chasing A’s, B’s, Championships and Degrees!”

“As athletes and coaches, we are naturally competitive in nature, but the health and safety of our students, staff and fans is of the utmost importance,” said Rouse. “It is in the best interest of the student-athlete for their safety. We will continue to do virtual activities with our team and encourage them to work hard in the classroom.”

The SIAC’s decision will also impact and delay the start of basketball season. Normally, the basketball season starts in mid-November. No decision on when the basketball season will start has been made yet.

SIAC Council of President Chairman George T. French, Jr., remarked that “the decision to extend the SIAC suspension into the Fall of 2020 was guided by the prevailing data, science as well as current Coronavirus infection trajectories. In light of these very difficult realities, and in the context of the overarching priority of all of my colleague SIAC presidents to protect the health, wellness and safety of all of our students and staff, we are confident that the decision announced today is consistent with those fundamental health and safety priorities.”

SIAC Commissioner Gregory Moore added, “The action taken by our conference to suspend fall sports was informed by a core desire on the part of our SIAC member institutions to make every effort to protect and mitigate COVID-19 related health and safety risk exposure to our students, coaches, and staff during this uncertain and unpredictable environment. It is our intention to seek eligibility relief for those student-athletes impacted by this interruption similar to that relief which was accorded to 2020 Spring sport student-athletes whose seasons were interrupted during the early stages of the Covid-19 outbreak.

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