Brown Water Polo’s Felix Mercado on Cancellation of Ivy Athletics: Doomsday for Our Season

mercado-brown-mar20
Brown's Felix Mercado has never experienced anything like what happened this week—with The Ivy League cancelling all sports. Photo Courtesy: Patrick Hughes, Jr.

https://www.swimmingworldmagazine.com/news/ivy-league-to-cancel-all-athletic-events-through-remainder-of-spring/Wednesday offered a stunning development in American intercollegiate sports. For the first time in memory, an athletic conference voted to shut down the seasons of multiple schools due to the threat of illness. The presidents of the eight institutions that make up The Ivy League voted to suspend all competition for the remainder of the academic year, an unprecedented response to the COVID-19.

brownThis was just the first of a series of cancellations in NCAA intercollegiate competition, as virtually every major sporting event in America has either been postponed or cancelled, including the collegiate sports world’s signature event, the NCAA DI men’s basketball tournament.

For a minor sport like women’s water polo, the stakes are different but no less significant. Student athletes who have trained for much of their lives to compete are now asked to suspend all activity—and in the case of seniors, it’s termination of what might have been their final opportunity to play college ball.

[Like Dominos Falling: Big West, MAAC, Pac-12 Presidents Vote to Suspend Seasons]

Certainly, that is the case for Ivy League athletes; the NCAA has indicated it is willing to provide relief for athletes whose eligibility ends this season. But, the Ivies don’t red-shirt their athletes; seniors whose sports were ended this week are not coming back for another year of competition.

This was one of the topics of discussion with Felix Mercado, Brown University’s long-time men’s and women’s water polo coach. Reached earlier this week just as the impact of the coronavirus crisis was being fully felt by the intercollegiate athletic community, Mercado spoke with Swimming World of the stunning demise of what had been the most promising women’s season of his 13 years in Providence.

– You’ve been in athletics for decades. Have you ever experienced anything like this current crisis?

In my time as coaching—and even since I’ve been alive—I don’t remember anything like this that physically stopped everything. Obviously, there’s been tragic events, but nothing that would require for things to be completely shut down.

– What is the impact of canceling all competition for eight DI athletic programs?

I think sports is collateral damage for what’s going on. The biggest fear that these universities had is that the majority of the student body was going away for spring break. They can’t control who they’re going to be in contact with. And coming back to a campus with no real information who has it, who doesn’t have it, how it’s being spread and all that… you have to err on the side of caution.

smith-brown-mar20

Brown senior Jamie Smith. Photo Courtesy: Patrick Hughes, Jr.

As a coach and as a staff we’re obviously frustrated. We’re having a good year, moving in the right direction—but our frustration comes down to the student athlete experience. And, how our seniors will never get this year back—we have no control [over that].

That’s probably the most frustrating part. But when you  get down to the nuts and bolts of this, this is a global problem, not a Brown problem, not an Ivy league problem. And [it’] just crazy within 48 hours how quickly the domino effect of stuff like this.

[Ivy League To Cancel All Athletic Events Through Remainder Of Spring]

We weren’t the first conference to shut it down. The NESCAC (New England Small College Athletic Conference), a Division III conference in New England, was the first conference to cut their spring sports short. And then we just fell in line. It just  happened, so don’t be surprised if you see the SCIAC (Southern California Intercollegiate Athletics Conference) do it as well with Pomona and Chapman canceling their seasons.

“It’s err on the side of caution. Some people might think it’s ridiculous that there’s an overreaction, but it’s easier to look back and say: ‘We shouldn’t have done it. We overreacted,’ than: ‘Oh my God, one person died because we didn’t act swiftly and according to the information available.'”

It’s err on the side of caution. Some people might think it’s ridiculous, that there’s an overreaction, but it’s easier to look back and say: “We shouldn’t have done it. We overreacted,” than: “Oh my God, one person died because we didn’t act swiftly and according to the information available.”

So it’s frustrating, but it’s silly not to look at the bigger picture and really put things in perspective.

– You are also the president of the Association of Collegiate Water Polo Coaches (ACWPC). What leadership role do you imagine taking in this moment?

Well, it’s difficult for me to look [at] myself in that, [to] have that kind of influence. But I can tell you right now, as a coaching community, we are communicating very well. We’re all following the leadership of our athletic directors, our administrators, the presidents of our university.

brown-goalie-wagner-feb20

Brown senior goalie Lauren Burns. Photo Courtesy: Patrick Hughes, Jr.

And that’s the best part about us being as coaches. We’re used to leading, but now it’s important for us to follow and do what’s best—not [just] for our programs but for our community. And look for our athletic directors, administrators and school presidents to lead us—and make sure  we see the bigger picture.

– Your team is 12-2 and had yet to play a conference match—and now the season is over. What do you say to seniors like Lauren Burns, Jamie Smith and Lexi Atwell, whose careers at Brown have been abruptly ended?

Selfishly speaking as a coach, and I’m sure a lot of coaches feel the same way, that’s the most difficult thing. We were not prepared for this—and I don’t know how to make this a better situation.

If there’s one thing we learned from this—and [it’s] a message that I’m going to make sure my athletes know—just like that, your season could be taken away from you.

“It’s literally the friends and family, the bond that you develop and you build. [And] it shows how important it is. On a day like yesterday, doomsday for our season, seeing everyone hug each other and be there for each other was probably one of the most greatest things I’ve seen as a coach.”

Right now where we have this [coronavirus] pandemic, but it could be an injury. I think you have to reflect on what you’re putting in, and how important it is to make sure that you have no regrets.

We met with the team [Tuesday]. The one thing that I felt really comfortable with was that everyone in that room, I knew that this was maximum effort and no one regretted anything they didn’t do this season.

We all knew everyone gave everything they [had] but it was taken away from us see how well we would’ve done. But the reflection is saying: You know what, this can happen… don’t take it for granted. Don’t take the time you spend with your team for granted and this process and this journey that these athletes have… it’s more about than just winning and losing.

atwell-brown-mar20

Brown senior Lexi Atwell. Photo Courtesy: Patrick Hughes, Jr.

It’s literally the friends and family, the bond that you develop and you build. [And] it shows how important it is. On a day like yesterday, doomsday for our season, seeing everyone hug each other and be there for each other was probably one of the greatest things I’ve seen as a coach.

No one’s thinking about their individual success or goals. It was like: “Oh my God, our season’s over!” I think they were more upset because they couldn’t spend a month and a half more together, road trips and everything else that we do as a team. I’m sure they’re not going miss the swim sets. I’m sure they’re not going to miss the morning practices.

But, reflecting back on that meeting yesterday, the biggest thing is just seeing how important it is to be in an environment that allows people to grow together and see that they didn’t take for granted how they came together in this tough time and really showed that it’s more than just sports. That made me feel great, but it’s also something that angered me a little bit. I’m now  even more focused to make sure that we remember these seniors and their season and what they’ve set we can carry on for the next season.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.