Spring sports seasons were cut short all across the country due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and for Loyola, that meant two promising lacrosse seasons came to an end. The women (5-0) were ranked No. 3 in the final Inside Lacrosse poll of the season, while the men (4-2) finished No. 13. The shutdown also affected the Greyhounds’ tennis, track and field, rowing and golf programs.
Loyola athletic director Donna Woodruff joined Glenn Clark Radio April 14 discussed the abrupt end to the spring sports season, how the extra year of eligibility for seniors will be handled, contingency plans for the fall and more.
PressBox: The biggest impact for Loyola is losing spring sports. That’s pretty clear. I think there’s a lot of places where they’ve got football and maybe people think spring sports season is just sort of the other season. But at Loyola, spring sports season is arguably as important as any season that you guys have.
Donna Woodruff: Yeah, absolutely. Given our location, given the success that our men’s and women’s lacrosse programs have had and in spring, everything’s blossoming for the summer, et cetera, we’ve always kind of built up to that as an awesome part of the year. So when that came crashing down for us and for the rest of the country, it obviously deflated the balloon a little bit. You’re just so looking forward to that. Both of our programs were off to a good start, and certainly the women’s lacrosse program sitting at No. 3 in the country and undefeated, it was crushing for them, tough for the institution as a whole and certainly our student body as well [was] looking forward to a great spring. That was tough, definitely tough.
PB: There’s been a lot made about the NCAA extending the offer for an extra year of eligibility to spring sports students. We talked to Charley Toomey a couple weeks ago. He said, “Look, we’re trying to work through this process and help everybody out. There are decisions to be made.” Can we confirm that Loyola student-athletes are going to have that opportunity, and can you explain what that looks like as far as trying to help them with that decision that they have to make?
DW: There’s a lot that goes into that decision, right? There’s obviously the fact the NCAA passed that waiver for their eligibility, and then it became the institutions’ and in some cases the conferences’ decision as to how they would or if they would support that. From Loyola’s standpoint, if that was made available, we wanted to support that if it was possible, and also if our student-athletes wanted to do that, if it was in their best interests.
In some cases, we’ve had students who right away – we even knew before decisions were made – that they already had jobs. They’re ready to move on. That doesn’t mean they loved that they wouldn’t be able to play this season, but from a future perspective, they made the decision that they were going to take the job that they already had and move on. And we certainly have had some who have spoken with their coaches and want to return to Loyola and play their last season. We’re trying to support that. We’re working with all the coaches to figure out how financially we could make that happen, but that’s what we want to do from Loyola’s standpoint.
PB: It’s giving them the opportunity to if they so choose, which feels inherently like the right thing to do, right?
DW: If you could separate and say, “Gosh, that’s the right thing to do,” I know to the outside world that does seem like the right thing to do, but like anything, it’s never that easy. You really do have to consider the finances. You also do have to consider what your team’s going to be made up of as you move forward. There’s a whole group of incoming freshmen who maybe were playing into what your team dynamics would look like next year. So now to add a new class and keep the class that was supposed to go out, for some people and some programs, those dynamics had to come into play as well. If you just look at the big picture, you try to be as rational and fair and empathetic as you can be while you’re keeping all of those pieces on the table and you’re trying to look at how you’re going to put this puzzle together.
PB: Loyola isn’t a football school, but there’s been a lot of talk about the football calendar. Obviously, you guys still have fall sports that you’re dealing with like soccer. What does that start to look like? Has that conversation come into focus of what a timetable would need to be in order to make things happen knowing as of now, we still don’t know for sure if guys are going to be able to have the campus open by the fall?
DW: We’re like everybody across the country. There’s so many unknowns, and every day you feel like you get another bit of information — whether it’s factual or not is questionable. But you get information from across the country of what people are considering … especially with football because they have such a long summer process that leads up to their conditioning for playing in the fall and what the health and safety of our student-athletes might be. I personally am on a weekly call with about 25 other athletic directors from across the country from Power Five to straight on down in Division I and hearing a lot about what they’re going through and what each of us is considering on our campuses.
We certainly have not made any decisions about what would happen over the summer months to affect our fall sports. We are proceeding as if we’ll have the opportunity to be back on campus and playing games, but as we get closer to the start of the fall, if we’re still in any kind of limitations, we’ll have to adjust accordingly. I’ve heard, especially from non-football schools, everything from, “Maybe we don’t bring student-athletes back until at least the students on campus are allowed to return.” That may be Labor Day. It may be before that. It may be after that. But I don’t think we can make any final decisions until we know that things are starting to open back up again.
PB: Generally, is it safe to say that there’s going to need to be flexibility, that you might have to be a little bit creative in when you play or things along those lines?
DW: Absolutely. Let’s say you typically play 20 games during the season. There may be some situations where you say we’re only playing in conference games if you get to that point. We may have to do that. Some schools are considering, “Yep, you can only stay within a bus ride away. We’re not going to take any flights just in case there’s any issue still with that.” Yeah, I think absolutely. And I think there are some conference rules and some NCAA rules because we do have expectations for how many games we play in conference, out of conference, et cetera. Some of those rules are being looked at in case there has to be extra flexibility given to schools and to specific teams.
To hear more from Woodruff, listen to the full interview here:
Photo Credit: Larry French/Loyola Athletic Communications