ACC’s hiatus because of coronavirus impacts hundreds of Georgia Tech athletes

Georgia Tech's Bria Matthews competes in the women's triple jump during the 2019 ACC Indoor Track and Field Championships in Blacksburg, Va., Saturday Feb. 23, 2019. (Photo by Michael Shroyer, the ACC)
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Georgia Tech's Bria Matthews competes in the women's triple jump during the 2019 ACC Indoor Track and Field Championships in Blacksburg, Va., Saturday Feb. 23, 2019. (Photo by Michael Shroyer, the ACC)

Georgia Tech athletes and coaches face a most unusual set of circumstances with the ACC’s decision made Thursday to suspend all games, organized practices and participation in NCAA championships for all member schools until further notice to help limit the spread of COVID-19.

The decision was announced on the same day that the NCAA announced that it had canceled all remaining winter and spring championship events, a decision that throws all of Tech’s spring sports – baseball, golf, men’s and women’s tennis and men’s and women’s track – into considerable uncertainty. It was a void that athletes across the NCAA were staring into Thursday.

“This is uncharted territory and the health and safety of our student-athletes and institutions remains our top priority,” ACC commissioner John Swofford said in a statement. “This decision is aimed to protect from the further spread of COVID-19.”

» More AJC coverage of the coronavirus outbreak

The ban also covers Tech’s football team, in the midst of spring practice, the swimming team, which had team members qualified for the NCAA championships, the indoor track and field team, which also had team members planning to compete at that sport’s national championship, and the women’s basketball team, which likely wasn’t going to draw an NCAA tournament berth but could have played in the Women’s NIT. The volleyball team, too, had a spring practice trip to Florida quashed.

Coach Geoff Collins’ football team completed its sixth of 15 spring practices Thursday morning. Practice was to resume after spring break, which takes place next week. The resumption of practice, including the spring game scheduled for April 10, seems very much in doubt.

For good measure, the institute also announced Thursday that it will move to a “distance learning” format after classes resume after spring break March 30.

For all teams and athletes, many competing in their senior seasons for the last time in an organized setting, opportunities to compete after countless hours spent in practices and individual training have been lost. There are far heavier costs being borne by the spread of the coronavirus, but it doesn’t make anyone’s own sacrifices any lighter.

On the women’s track and field team, for instance, distance runner Nicole Fegans and triple jumper Bria Matthews were to compete in this weekend’s NCAA indoor track and field championship in Albuquerque, N.M. Both won ACC champions in their respective events, Fegans (a junior) in the 3,000 meters and Matthews in the triple jump. For Matthews, a senior, it was her third.

Matthews will finish her Tech career as a most exemplary jumper. But she’ll likely be denied her last outdoor track and field season.

It’s conceivable that the ACC suspension could be lifted before the end of teams’ regular seasons, although that seems unlikely. The Big Ten, for instance, has canceled all competition through the end of the academic year. But even if that were to happen, the cancellation of all NCAA championship events removes the ultimate incentive for Yellow Jackets athletes. Before the start of the baseball season, for example, players spoke of getting to Omaha, Neb. – site of the College World Series. For the team’s seniors and juniors likely to jump to the professional ranks if drafted, that goal has been eliminated.

For Tech’s golf team, perennially the best team on campus, coach Bruce Heppler has a team ranked third nationally that has a core of three seniors who helped the Jackets win the ACC championship a year ago, the team’s 18th. Tech’s hunt for its first-ever national championship will have to wait.

Tech’s women’s tennis team is ranked ninth nationally, and senior Kenya Jones is the No. 20 singles player in the country. The men’s team ranks 44th.

At the end of a wild day, when those Jackets can take to the court again – or their fellow Jackets to their own competitive arenas – can only be guessed.

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