Spring sports return with unorthodox schedules

Huskins Field is pictured on Aug. 28. Nicole Garay / The Tufts Daily

The presidents of the NESCAC colleges and universities released a statement on March 9 saying that they would allow spring athletics competition to take place.

The conference left the decision to participate up to each school and required that a minimum of six schools participate in a sport for the season to take place. This spring, baseball, golf, men’s and women’s rowing, men’s and women’s lacrosse, softball, sailing, outdoor track and field and men’s and women’s tennis will be able to compete in conference play. 

Tufts student-athletes will remain under university surveillance testing and must follow quarantine protocols like all other students. 

While the continuation of a spring sports season provides Tufts student-athletes and sports fans with cautious optimism, the formatting of the schedules for each team reflects the difficulties of playing during a pandemic. The shortened nature of the season will put immense pressure on student-athletes to perform well, as their chances to qualify for postseason play are extremely limited.

Tufts will only be competing against other NESCAC schools, with some teams playing the same school for up to half of their schedule. Teams will not play any schools outside of the conference. Cancellations and postponement of competition are likely, as schools must comply with their respective COVID-19 protocols to be eligible for competition. 

Not only will athletes have a very limited window to win as many games as possible, but they are also going to be facing real game action for the first time in over a year. Kyle Cortese, a senior captain on the men’s baseball team, explained how this quick start to the season has affected not only his personal preparation, but the team’s as well. 

“Individually, I prepared as if COVID wasn’t a thing and as if it were a normal year,” Cortese said. “As a team, I’d say we’re all ecstatic to be able to play this year and have a chance to compete … Guys are gearing up, getting back into the swing of things and working hard to make sure we can play and compete at a high level this spring.”

Starting on the diamond, the Tufts baseball and softball programs will be playing weekend four-game splits against NESCAC East Division opponents, with two games played on Saturday and two on Sunday. The Saturday doubleheader will be played at one team’s field and Sunday’s will be played at the opponents’. This could pose a legitimate hurdle for athletes and coaches, as they will not only have to play twice in one day, but will also have to travel to another location the next day for two more games.

Tufts softball has already experienced their first taste of this “COVID-19 effect” on their season, as their originally scheduled four-game set with Bates was postponed and replaced by a doubleheader at Middlebury this weekend. The Jumbos split the doubleheader with the Panthers on April 3. The NESCAC softball championship will feature a best of three series between the top two regular season teams on May 8 and 9.

The baseball team will have to play seven inning games for the entire regular season, as opposed to the normal nine they would play given a normal season. Baseball will participate in regular season play through May 2. Similar to softball, there will be a shortened, best two-of-three NESCAC Championship series the weekend of May 8 and 9. 

Cortese commented on the awkward format of the schedule, saying that it cannot get in the way of the main focus of the season: winning games.

“We have a little bit of a different schedule in regards to conference weekends,” Cortese said. “That being said, the most important thing for us is to control what we can control and let the little things take care of themselves.”

Tufts golf will face an extremely shortened schedule, with only two regular season events in April before the NESCAC rounds kick off at the end of the month. Similarly, men’s and women’s tennis will play in only four matches before entering championship play early in May. The NESCAC championships for both tennis programs will be held as a single-elimination tournament. 

Women’s tennis opened their season against Brandeis this past weekend after a cancellation by Bates, winning handily 9–0

Men’s and women’s track and field face a six-meet schedule, in which they will compete against other NESCAC schools. NESCAC championships for both teams begin May 1. Men’s and women’s rowing will compete in three regular season events before NESCAC prelims and championships begin May 1, with the women’s championship on May 8 and the men’s championship on May 9. 

Men’s and women’s lacrosse face six and five game sets of NESCAC East Division opponents, respectively. After this regular season slate, the Jumbo lacrosse programs will have the chance to qualify for a three-round NESCAC tournament, with the men’s championship game held on May 8 or 9 and women’s championship game on May 1 or 2. Men’s lacrosse will open the season April 10 when they host Colby, while women’s lacrosse dominated their opener at Connecticut College April 3, winning 17–5.

Although this season may provide few opportunities for Tufts student-athletes to qualify for playoff and championship competition, the return of athletics this spring marks a positive on the road back to normalcy.