by Elese Kirby
The NCAA’s Response to Coronavirus
Students from all around the country and the world are getting ready to head back to SMU’s (Southern Methodist University) campus in Dallas, TX this fall. But, this year, things will be quite different. The last few months of the previous school year experienced abrupt and challenging differences brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic. Those changes are continuing and evolving due to the continued presence of the virus in the world. Among the many adjustments to learning, student athletics will be affected as well, in particular, SMU’s Division 1 Equestrian will look quite different this year.
The NCAA has implemented systems for the fall season that are subject to change as situations, including federal and state policies, will naturally transform as the pandemic continues to run its course. Some of these changes include specific guidelines that all schools must follow such as having a phone number and email dedicated to taking reports of infractions of these guidelines. They are also allowing athletes to opt-out of participating in their sport in favor of their health while keeping their scholarship granted by their school and enhanced safety protocols for all involved.
Last week, after another NCAA meeting, more addendums were added to the list of changes made to adapt the sport to protect its participants from COVID-19 safely. As of this past week, self-isolation may end after ten days from the day the athlete tests positive for COVID-19 for most, though there may be extenuating circumstances in which self-isolation will last longer. Another change to the guidelines is that athletes that test positive may not exercise for ten days minimum or as long as symptoms are present.
Changes Within the Sport
These changes will undoubtedly shape the landscape of competitions as Division 1 Equestrian competitions are typically filled with spectators and cheering fans. But, this season, there will be no outside spectating allowed. The relationships between team members may be sacrificed as they must maintain social distancing, and members must wear masks when around others.
“Without this, the team will have to build this momentum on their own, which will be a challenge,” former member of the SMU equestrian team Sara McCann. said. “Just in general, wearing masks and maintaining safe social distancing will be something we’ll all constantly have to be conscious of.”
Athletes in all sports thrive off their fans and outside support as they compete, and this is no different for equestrians. Surely competitions will not be the same with barely anyone around to clap at the end of a round or class.
|SMU Equestrian Team members pal around at meet.|
Not to mention, the lack of interaction between members will make for a more challenging time creating a close bond between the team, especially for incoming members.
“It is going to be hard for them to get to know their teammates and coaches as well as we would like, said SMU’s head coach for the Equestrian team, Gwin.
This coming season (2020-2021) will be Coach Gwin’s seventh season as SMU’s head coach. She has led SMU to many successful seasons and meets in the past seven years. So far, some of her most prominent achievements have been guiding her team to 20 NCEA All-American selections, two conference championships, and has earned the title Conference Coach of the Year three times. While these achievements do not come without talented riders, there is much to be said for Gwin’s ability to create a harmonious and robust team dynamic that factors to their success.
Looking Forward with COVID-19 on the Horizon
In addition to current athletes, there will also be differences for potential athletes. Recruiting for college athletics is an exciting process for athletes, coaches, and fans alike. However, this year, due to COVID-19, recruiting athletes will inevitably be different for all sports, Division 1 equestrian included.
According to Coach Gwin, there is currently a recruiting ban imposed by the NCAA, and recruiting can only occur virtually due to the pandemic. Admittedly, this poses some challenges for the recruiting process.
For many athletes, like many other college students, visiting different colleges and universities during high school had a significant impact on their decision on where they decided to go. Olivia Woodson, a rising junior and member of SMU’s equestrian team, agreed that touring schools was one of the biggest influences in her choice to attend SMU and be a part of their team.
“This is something that cannot be replaced virtually, and if high school students are not allowed to visit in person, I think this will greatly affect their choice,” Woodson said.
With thousands of colleges in the United States alone, deciding on one can be an overwhelming decision. Now that students are unable to travel and visit many schools, that decision is even harder.
Nevertheless, the lack of visiting and in-person recruiting the Equestrian sport might be facing, SMU’s team continues to be optimistic in maintaining a roster of talented and well-rounded riders.
“We have received more letters of interest in the program than ever before, so there is no lack of interest from potential student-athletes,” said Gwin.
Despite the challenges present for recruiting, one of the advantages that the equestrian sport has compared to others is that many horse shows continue with new safety protocols implemented. Therefore, athletes are still able to compete and be scouted by schools. Many prominent competitions that scouts often visit to look for talented riders are also live-streamed. That means that scouts may still watch for potential recruits despite not being able to visit and be there in person.
Regardless of these advantages, “a new approach to recruiting will need to be taken this year to comply with COVID-19 protocols,” Woodson said.
While there are many inevitable changes and unknowns that SMU’s Equestrian team is facing, there is no doubt that one thing is sure; they are ready to meet the challenges head-on with positive attitudes.
“We all want to play, so it is worth the challenges we will face,” Gwin said.
|SMU Equestrian cheers on team-mates prior to Covid-19.|