PLATTSBURGH — For Plattsburgh State's Mike Howard, director of intercollegiate athletics and recreation, this past month has showcased scenarios neither he, nor anyone, would have expected.
"It was kind of surreal the day everything was canceled," Howard said. "We had some kind of indication that things were happening all over the place, and things were happening fast and furious. It's been a whirlwind ever since."
The sun was shining most of March 12, the day when the NCAA elected to put a halt to athletics and end its winter and spring sports seasons, but at Plattsburgh State, there was doom and gloom.
Howard was in meetings all morning with various spring coaches as well as on conference calls with SUNYAC and NCAA officials, including the college's NCAA liaison.
At the time, Howard and his department were deciding whether or not to send its baseball and softball teams to Florida for their annual spring trips and also figuring out how the women's hockey team would host an NCAA quarterfinal against Norwich that Saturday.
To Howard, it seemed as if everything was changing and escalating by the minute.
"The dominoes started to fall to the extent to where we went from debating that morning about having our baseball and softball teams going to Florida and women's hockey playing with no fans to telling our spring teams they were not traveling by the afternoon," Howard said.
Things went from bad to worse.
GETTING THE WORD
While in a meeting with other members of his department, Howard and his team saw news alerts via social media that the NCAA had axed its Division I men's basketball tournament.
"As soon as we saw that, we knew we were done," Howard said. "Minutes later, the NCAA called us, since they were in communication with all the host schools for playoff tournaments, which included us because of women's hockey, and told us the news officially."
And that was it.
Howard as well as everyone involved with Plattsburgh State athletics faced the harsh reality that their seasons ended abruptly.
PASSING ALONG THE NEWS
Following the decision, Howard made sure to meet with all the Cardinal squads who were actively in season.
"I felt it was important they heard from me," Howard said. "I either met with the teams when the coaches initially met with them or after the fact. It was tough news to take, and I wanted to be there for all of them."
Programs like the women's hockey team, which was three wins away from a national title, the softball team, which had yet to even play a game, the women's lacrosse team, which started the season 4-0, or any of the other Plattsburgh programs were all on Howard's mind.
At the time, nobody knew if the decisions made were overkill or necessary, but any hesitancy diminished as time went on.
"If we had known then what we know now about the coronavirus, there would have been disappointment, but I think everyone would have got it," Howard said.
"At that time, some of us were thinking, 'Are we going to wake up tomorrow or next week and kick ourselves?' There were still so many unknowns at that point, but the decision seems like a no-brainer now."
While emotions were high the day the sports world went dark, the light has re-emerged at Plattsburgh State.
Howard as well as various coaches and athletes have started to hit the reset button and acclimate to the times.
"I am really proud of the way our coaches and student-athletes have taken this on," Howard said. "We can use this opportunity to come together as an athletic program and find ways to better ourselves. Having the right approach, we can come out on the other side better."
Having a positive mindset during a time of crisis, or in this case a global pandemic, can make hard times a bit easier.
Howard wants to instill an outgoing and appreciative mindset for Plattsburgh State athletics.
"I want the focus to be celebrating what we did accomplish and not what we were not able to do," Howard said.
"I have heard from a lot of student-athletes since the day things were canceled who have found that perspective, which makes me real happy because I care so much about all our student-athletes."
An initial narrative behind seasons ending was how student-athletes lost a year of eligibility, especially seniors.
That changed when the NCAA said 2020 spring athletes could retain their year of eligibility.
While it's a great opportunity, Howard said it's still a tricky situation.
"I think we will have a couple students who will take advantage of it, and it's a nice opportunity if the situation is right for the student," Howard said.
The challenges for any student-athletes wanting to take up the NCAA on its offer is they will still have to account for the financial aspects of college as well as possibly declining due to future employment or other educational opportunities, such as graduate school.
"Factors like this make coming back a bit harder, and my understanding is I don't expect we will have a lot, and I don't expect many schools will have a lot."
Plenty about the future, even a month later, is unknown regarding when athletics will return.
Regardless of when sports come back, Howard said everyone at Plattsburgh State needs to stay positive.
"This will only serve to strengthen the relationships our student-athletes have with their coaches and strengthen what a coach really does," Howard said. "This is where coaches really do their jobs, and all our coaches are doing an outstanding job."
Howard continues to stay in touch with his coaches as well as Plattsburgh State's student-athletes and plans to cherish the day sports return.
He said the day athletics are back in full swing will be as memorable, if not more memorable, than the day the reality of COVID-19 struck him.
That moment came when he had one final face-to-face meeting with members of Plattsburgh State athletics a few days after sports were canceled.
The setting was the Memorial Hall lobby.
"I was standing there talking with 25 or 30 members of our athletic department five to six feet apart in the lobby area," Howard said.
"I talked about how this is something we have never seen so there is no playbook on how to navigate this other than working together and collaborating. We had a 45-minute conversation in the lobby, and it was a moment I will not forget.
"In that moment, I thought to myself, 'Wow, this is really happening.'"
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