How The NCAA Division II Swimming and Diving Championships Cancellation Affected The Parties Involved

drury-team
The Division II Swimming and Diving Championships were pulled after just three sessions. There was no champion crowned. And many swimmers missed out on their best races. Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

The NCAA Division II Swimming and Diving Championships began last week on Wednesday March 11 without a hitch. But as the day went on, the coronavirus had caused many sporting events across the United States to be cancelled. Below is an oral history of those 48 hours from when the meet started to when the meet was ultimately cancelled on Thursday night. We interviewed four coaches that were on deck in Geneva, Ohio, about those two days and the emotions that followed.

A little after 4 p.m. EST on Wednesday, the NCAA announced that the March Madness basketball tournaments and the rest of the Division I winter championships would be held without fans.

Drury Assistant Coach Doug Schrank: “When we left before the meet some people were starting to talk a lot about coronavirus. Some people may have been thinking about it more than others but I wasn’t really thinking that it would affect the meet at all.

“I had already read some things about basketball tournaments that were not going to allow spectators and maybe some people had started to cancel things. We had a coaches meeting the day before and they said if somebody is sick they shouldn’t come, but we are having the meet as normal.”

Indianapolis Head Coach Jason Hite: “There was no talk on Wednesday with the coaches. There was just emails from the NCAA. It was constant communication. They did a good job of letting us know that they were meeting at 9 a.m. and 4 p.m. every day – the big NCAA council. Not just the meet council, but the NCAA medical group with an old former surgeon general. They were keeping us updated as much as they possibly could.

Around five hours later at 9 p.m. EST Wednesday night, the National Basketball Association announced it would suspend the rest of its season for the time being after one player tested positive for coronavirus.

Later that night, it was announced that the Division II championships would be held without spectators. The meet went on Thursday morning with empty stands.

McKendree Head Coach Jimmy Tierney: “I found out via my team members who drove up 8 1/2 hours to cheer us on that they were not going to be allowed back into meet. They would be reimbursed but could not return for the rest of the meet. At that time we assumed the rest of the meet would be similar to other sports who had already announced the empty stands at their events.”

Schrank: “At first we interpreted that they were going to allow limited family members. We thought they were making some mandatory announcement and people were going to still going to be in the stands and I didn’t know how they were going to control that.

“The next day we came and they had these signs on the door that no spectators were allowed so there were literally no spectators. I took a video at the start of the 400 medley relay and there’s nobody in the stands, it was pretty weird. That was kind of disappointing, but it was like, OK, we are going to finish the meet.

“I think some people were bummed about it but it wasn’t affecting any of the swimming. I think people were still swimming pretty well that morning. I think people were still focusing on what we were doing.”

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Jimmy Tierney. Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

Thursday morning went on as usual but with no spectators in the stands. Around 12:00 p.m. EST the NCAA Division I conference basketball tournaments, which were already being held spectator-less, were cancelled altogether. 

Tierney: “On Thursday morning before prelims, the NCAA Rep for our meet, Marie Scovron stopped by to speak with a few of the coaches standing near me to give us updates. At that point she told us that she felt pretty good that the meet would be completed. She was of course giving us her opinion and we were fully aware that these decisions were coming from above her so anything was still possible.”

Hite: “Watching the news, I had a feeling that we would get through Thursday night and be done. That was where my brain was thinking.

The way that (UIndy) finished on Wednesday with a second place in diving and a runner-up in the men’s 2medley and a women’s top eight, and those were all things we hadn’t accomplished before. We broke school records on our final performances of the evening on Wednesday. And on Thursday we got four men in the top eight for diving and we were ready to rock and roll on Thursday night.”

Grand Valley State Head Coach Andy Boyce: “First they said only family members and then no fans. We were hoping to get through Thursday night before they started to think about canceling. But we definitely wondered if we were next.”

Schrank: “Between prelims and finals, I talked to our media guy on the phone and he was talking about how things were getting more and more serious. He said ‘I would give it a 50/50 chance that you’ll get to finish through the end of the meet.’ And I thought about it and was like ‘wow, I hope that is not true.’ I was convinced, this is me being a little bit ignorant, that we had already started the meet, how are they going to not let us finish the meet? It’s only a couple more days, but we can make it a couple more days.”

Tierney: “That afternoon, we heard that there was a press conference to be held by Mike DeWine the governor of Ohio. I got the feeling that he may shut down any large gatherings in his state immediately. Several of us tried to check online to see if there was anything significant announced but could not find anything. So we prepared as usual for finals.”

“We held our team meeting at 4 that afternoon and then departed for the pool. Since there were no e-mails or texts at that point in time, we were fully expecting that finals would be held, and my team was terribly excited to continue our strong performance.”

On Thursday afternoon around 4 p.m. EST, the NCAA announced it was cancelling all of its winter championships. That included the Division II swimming and diving championships.

jason-hite

Jason Hite in 2015. Photo Courtesy: UIndy Athletics

Hite: “Right as I was about to walk out of my hotel room, I saw the banner on ESPN and saw that the NCAA had cancelled everything. That was when I got a call from the Queens coach saying they were pulling out and moving on. I called my AD and that was it.

“At that point some of our kids were arriving to the pool and the doors were basically closed. And I hadn’t left for the pool yet and I had to tell my kids who hadn’t left exactly what the deal is and get everybody together.”

Tierney: “My assistant and I drove the team around to the athlete drop off location and then was pulling around to park. When I saw numerous athletes milling around outside of the exit door, I knew then that they had pulled the plug on the meet. I immediately started to get texts from the team as they found out the news inside.”

Schrank: “We had a group that went over earlier to the pool like 30 minutes before everyone else because they were in the first couple of events so they wanted to get to the pool earlier to warm up for finals. They had already gone over and we were leaving 30 minutes after them and our hotel was 20 minutes or so from the pool. I was going to the lobby to take the other two vans that were in the later group, and the swimmers were like ‘welp, it’s over’ as I was walking down.

“The first group had gotten over there and they weren’t letting people into the pool anymore. Some of the swimmers went in anyway and saw they were pulling out the lane lines and taking out touch pads.

“I’m glad I didn’t have to see that because that would be even more disappointing.”

Hite: “For me personally my hardest thing is watching innocent people’s hearts get broken. I’ve been through a kid being diagnosed with cancer while my wife was nine months pregnant. I’ve dealt with stressful situations before, but most of these guys hadn’t dealt with a whole lot of stress.

“That part is hard — to have to watch them deal with and have them rely on you as an adult to take the lead and I tried to keep my s*** together for them. Fortunately we had other people there to keep everyone going.”

Tierney: “Upon going inside to the lobby area of the Spire I realized how devastated the team was. They were all sitting around the tables outside the cafeteria sobbing. It was a combination of being so very crushed and angry at the suddenness of it all. In a flash, their season or careers were over…Period.

“I didn’t have many words for them at that time. The best we could do was give them hugs, let them know how sorry we were for them, and let them know that we loved them.”

Schrank: “Coach Reynolds just kind of said that this wasn’t a situation that we could control and it was unfortunate because we had a lot of people were ready to do really well. But this meet being taken away from us doesn’t take away the things we have done as a team and the work we put in to get here. We don’t get this experience but we are fortunate to have had a lot of others that led up to this.

“Coach Reynolds always preaches having an attitude of gratitude, and in a situation like this that is not the easiest thing to do but I think it is the best thing you can do. And just be grateful for the group that we had that was there. And then we have been able to share these experiences with each other, trying to have as positive as an outlook as possible because I think for everybody they can take some time to be upset about it.

“If you don’t let yourself be a little bit sad about it, then you are suppressing that more than you should. Ultimately, you can’t continue to dwell on it because this is something that is totally out of our control. Unfortunately it was the situation that we had to accept.”

Hite: “I said we are a family and through good times and bad we stick together. We will make it through this and we got to hold each other close and rely on each other to make it through all of this and I know we will. Nobody is hurt. This is something out of our control and we are going to do the best we can and we are going to get a meal here so go collect yourself. We voted to stay the night instead of getting on the road right away and it was just a matter of ‘I love you guys,’ and, ‘We are going to be strong together.’ We are going to see how this plays out and do what we have to do to get through this situation together as a group.”

Boyce: “We had our bus turn around on our way to the finals session. We had a meeting in the lobby of the hotel, got dinner, and headed home. It is a special testament to our seniors. They had great careers and were in tears.”

Schrank: “We were really excited for the meet. Our girls were doing really well. Our guys were doing really well. We had a really bad meet last year with the guys, and we had a group that was really excited to prove that we are still one of the best teams.

“We were first in prelims in the 400 medley relay which was the last event we got to do. We were feeling really good about the next couple of days and we had some swims we were really excited about so it was pretty disappointment when we got the news.

“A lot of them were crying, especially the seniors. We had a group of 12 or 15 people that were in the pool so they had to drive 20 minutes back to the hotel. It was sad. It was hard to accept.

Tierney: “We returned to the hotel and had a full team/staff meeting in my room. It was a time for us to share with each other our thoughts and begin the healing process. The closest situation that I could share was that of the 1980 Olympic team that had the rug pulled out under them.

“Obviously I was not a part of that team but have several friends that were and know of the pain that they dealt with. I told them that this was not fair but decisions were being made for the overall good of our society and we just happened to be a sports victim of it all.

“The way the team members responded and spoke so glowingly of each other made me very proud. There was a lot of loved shared in that room by athletes, coaches, and support staff. We will certainly all be a part if history as much as it hurt right in that moment.”

Hite: “Some of these kids hadn’t even touched the water yet. We had a 200 backstroker that was going to swim on day 3 and we had a girl that was going to try to break the championships record in the 200 back. We had a lot of kids that had a lot of big swims. The number one seed in the 200 IM for the women got disqualified and she got back to third in the 400 IM the next day. She really wanted some redemption. There’s a lot of little stories like that where these kids were looking forward to having another moment to show off what they worked for. It’s hard to counsel them through that.”

Tierney: “We had strong feelings of emptiness and frustration. Our team meetings were not focused on winning. We wanted to show that after a spectacular GLVC performance, the Bearcats flex in the pool was not a one time thing.

“Our team was determined to show the DII swimming world that it would take something special to beat us. In the end, it was very difficult to see some of my seniors have it stopped so suddenly with many big things still to come, both individually and as a team. Some of them would have been a part of winning relays I believe for the first time in their careers. I was hurting for them all and still am.”

Schrank: “Another thing that some people ask is would you have rather not started the meet at all? I think that would be easy in some ways because we wouldn’t have to spend the time to go there and get ready for a couple days and once it was over, we had to go through the process of changing our flights and getting back.

“It’s hard for everyone in different ways, but for the teams that didn’t go to their meet, it was a little bit easier to do time trials because they weren’t traveling and they were already at home so they were able to get that set up really quickly. I saw a couple of (Division II) teams do something when they got back but I think it was a little bit more difficult having been at the meet and then traveling again.

“We did have some great swims at the meet in the first three sessions that I am thankful that we got to have. Nationals for us is something that we build up as our big focus for the year and what we really work towards and it’s a fun meet for me. I love that meet! I think the swimmers love it too.

“We didn’t get to have all of it but we did get to have some of it so I think some of them, I don’t know if they are able to look at it that way but we are fortunate that we got to have some of the meet and it did give us something.”

Boyce: “It is absolutely the right thing to do, but it is such a tough thing.”

Tierney: “At the GLVC meet we won our first ever 200 medley relay with a new men’s GLVC record of 1:26.31. Mind you we were fully rested and shaved. On the first night of finals we won our first National relay title with a 1:25.29. I was stunned. Who drops this amount of time on second go around?

“I was so impressed with how they handled the lead up to the meet (with first time national ranking of No. 1 in CSCAA poll and pre-meet prediction of us winning based on psyche sheet). We also had the female winner (Sydney Rey) of the Elite 90 academic award at the Tuesday banquet.

“Things were going our way!

“It was very nice on part of several coaches from other teams to stop by and compliment me and the team on the amazing swimming that had occurred for the 3 sessions that were held.

“For example, a text from Doug Schrank of Drury: ‘You were killing it. I think everyone thought you guys were going to do it.'”

From Doug Grooms of Missouri S & T: “Sorry it ended this way, you had the title on your grasp!”

Hite: “A very difficult moment to be a coach and to have to handle the emotions of 32 kids and that was not an easy thing to do. I’m very fortunate that I have a big staff. Our massage therapist and athletic trainer got the seniors on board and they organized a fun evening to take everyone’s brain off of the nastiness of the night.

“We went out to the grocery store to get some wings and ice cream and organized a night of fun at the hotel pool and made the best of the night. The kids bought in and they made it an absolute memorable evening for our program which says a lot about who our kids are and what they mean to each other and the fact that relationships are huge. We had some parents that were able to see it and be a part of it too.”

The University of Indianapolis decided to hold their own “finals” in the hotel pool, trying to make the best of a difficult situation.

Hite: “It was our massage therapist Terry Fletcher. He has been with us since my first year at UIndy and he has been an absolute rock star for us and it proves why we have him around. You get a massage therapist to take care of your student athletes physically. You don’t always think about what they are going to provide for you on the emotional end and Terry is that guy for us. These kids trust him and care about him deeply. It was his idea.

“He got my approval but he didn’t need that. Then he started organizing with our athletic trainer Lydia Stiving. And they got the seniors together while a few of the other coaches went to the store to get pizza, wings, ice cream and soda and then some water and Powerade for the ride home the next day.

“One of the other coaches was there to council everybody and not let anyone go hide in their rooms. We wanted everybody to be around somebody else. I think all of us played little parts in that.

“And it worked out to be a memorable evening.”

The Division II teams had to make travel arrangements to go home early.

Schrank: “Immediately a bunch of people were trying to call Short’s Travel, which is the company that does all the travel booking for NCAA, which is what everyone was using. So if you tried to call them right when they cancelled the meet, it was impossible to go through.

“And they told us we could just contact the airline directly that they had booked your flight with or you could go through the means needed to change your flight and the NCAA would cover it within a reasonable amount. When I tried to call Delta, they told me I was on hold for six hours so that wasn’t going to happen. Finally at 10:30 I was able to get to Short’s Travel and they changed the flights for us for the next day.

“It was really weird to be arriving back in Springfield on Friday night and just thinking ‘we should be at the meet right now. This isn’t where we are supposed to be this feels really weird.'”

The quarantine continues. And many are trying to still make sense of it.

Hite: “My guess is everything is done for the winter sports. I don’t think they are going to postpone and do anything with wrestling at this point. I don’t think they’re going to try to continue swimming. My guess is if they try to do anything with wrestling in 2 or 3 weeks it would be a hard sell to get some of these kids at the right body weight and we all know what swimming looks like two weeks from now.

“Many of these kids are training for their Olympic Trials — they haven’t been cancelled yet. Our South African swimmer is trying to get home now because her trials have not been cancelled yet. Some of these kids are wanting to get that going so I can’t imagine that they would be able to do anything at this point that would be productive.

“And I can’t imagine the schools would be able to financially support it either.”

Schrank: “A lot of the international swimmers that we have were looking for flights home right away because their parents want them to get home during this and I don’t know what the best thing is to do but it’s hard to tell them not to go, and they can’t really do anything here anyway, we aren’t allowed to use the pool anymore at all.

“They haven’t officially said that the classes are going online yet, we just have two weeks of spring break and they were going to decide, but they haven’t decided yet. It’s a really terrible time.”

Tierney: “I cannot put into words how I feel about this team and the way that the men and women responded on the big stage. They amazed this veteran coach for sure. I have so much love and admiration for them. In my book, they are true Champions in the pool and in life.”

Extraordinary Events In Swimming History:

Australia, Canada, China, Denmark, Sweden, Norway, Italy, France, Ireland, Spain, the Netherlands, Brazil and Japan have all had major meets affected by the coronavirus pandemic, while in the United States, the NCAA Championships have been cancelled and USA Swimming has imposed a 30-day suspension on all events, while Canada is considering what to do about its Olympic trials early next month. In Italy, where swimmers are struggling to maintain normal routines, can’t get to practice and in some cases find pool time, a #stopolympics campaign was launched by the Nuoto website calling on solidarity among swimming nations to recognise that Olympic preparations have been blown off course and that it would be in the interests of fairness to postpone the Games for a time of calm beyond the coronavirus crisis. 

Our coverage:

Guidance on Water and Coronavirus 

4 comments

  1. avatar
    lol

    “Who drops this amount of time on second go around?”…. Wayne state did that in the same relay last nationals

    • avatar
      Brad

      Bloomsburg Mens 2 med Relay dropped 1.50 in 2017 Finals. Seeded 8th to #3 and had to do a swim off to get the 8th spot. So it was the third swim in the day. It was crazy.

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