Senior Volleyball student-athlete Mykaela Ross. (Courtesy of Morgan State University)

By Trinity Collins
Special to the AFRO

Morgan State University’s student-athletes are faced with one of their toughest challenges: a semester without sports.

“Life is definitely different,” said Mykaela Ross, a senior volleyball outside hitter. “As athletes, we were always on the go, so we always had food in our stomachs. So now it’s like, ‘Oh man, I didn’t drink water today.’” 

This lifestyle is due to the coronavirus pandemic that ended the 2020 spring semester and put the 2020 fall semester sports season in jeopardy. 

Jake Maggio, a sophomore varsity football long snapper, said it was a waiting game for him, “It was a little different for transferring in and everything, the whole process was different.” Maggio, native of Bridgewater, N.J., transferred to MSU from the University of Maine. 

“We were hopeful, because at one point we thought that we could go back and do voluntary workouts in July” said Ramona Riley-Bozier head women’s volleyball coach. “The reality really hit in July that this wasn’t looking good for us having a season in the fall.”

Morgan’s varsity athletes’ biggest worries became a reality on July 16. The Council of Presidents and Chancellors of the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference announced the suspension of the 2020 fall season and vowed to return in 2021 with winter and spring sports. 

 “Obviously this is an arduous decision because everyone wants to have a fall season for student-athletes, fans and others,” said MEAC Commissioner Dr. Dennis Thomas. “Part of our responsibility is to ensure the mental and physical health and safety of our student-athletes, coaches and staff is paramount. It is imperative that everyone recognize that is our first and foremost responsibility.”

Because of the official suspension of fall sports on July 22 and Morgan’s decision for remote-only classes for the fall semester on Aug. 11, student-athletes noticed some changes in their academic, athletic and regular lifestyle.  

MSU had 7,800 students on campus last fall. Today, a year later, the campus is deserted, except for 300 mostly students confined to a protective bubble, similar to NBA players in Orlando, Fla.

Mykaela Ross, a Detroit native, explained that road games on Fridays used to interfere with classes. Now, with no games or practices they focus primarily on classes. 

“On an academic level,” said Ross, “the schedule has kind of changed for the better.”  

Ross, former member of the 2018 MEAC Commissioners All-Academic Team, also said, “On a personal and athlete level, you kind of have to get yourself back into the swing of things. You kind of have to be disciplined and want to have somewhat of the same lifestyle that you did before.” 

Jake Maggio detailed the change in how the football team practices. Instead of the whole team practicing at once, they are in groups. The primary interaction with his teammates and coaches is through Zoom.

Morgan’s athletes are not alone in dealing with the adversity of COVID-19 and a potentially cancelled 2021 spring season.  

Southern Connecticut State University graduate student-athlete Jack Brown faces similar challenges entering his final season in track and field.  

The sixth-year pole vaulter’s desire for one last hurrah in Track and Field relies on accountability. “This is definitely the time where athletes have to be smart about things,” said Brown.

Brown of New Haven explained that he’s 50-50 on being safe during the pandemic; when he’s around his teammates that all test negative for the coronavirus he feels confident. But his worries start to flare up when the season progresses: “The only thing that I worry about is what they do after practice, and how they feel coming back the next day.” said Brown

Morgan State’s administration has been extra strict in its covid-19 procedures, specifically for the students on campus. The Harriet A. Woolford University Health Center (UHC) is the designated point for all matters pertaining to COVID-19. 

Morgan State are also in conversation with Johns Hopkins University regarding the feasibility to assist the East Cold Spring Lane campus with testing and tracing.

Maggio said that the on-campus guys get tested frequently compared to zero test for the off-campus guys. “The on-campus guys stay on campus and the off-campus guys stay off campus,” said Maggio.  

Morgan’s focus on campus safety not only affects athletes, but your regular student body. Tyler B. Medley, a senior student and former varsity cheerleader, said that there isn’t much focus on the off-campus housing. “As long as you’re sitting on campus, you to get tested weekly,” said Medley. 

Currently living approximately 15 minutes away from campus, Philadelphia native Medley gave an example on how Morgan View operates under different sets of rules.

“They can’t force us to do any kind of testing, they can’t force us to tell, like your roommate does not have to tell you whether they have COVID or not,” said Medley. 

Morgan View, working in conjunction with American Campus Communities, does not administer COVID-19 testing. Their requirements are sanitizers and a mask mandate when entering the building. 

Morgan’s plan is to restore the safety of the campus to bring back sports, the endgame may be a little bit more complicated than originally expected.   

The large college football markets, so-called Power Five schools that include Oklahoma, Texas, Florida, Alabama and LSU are the forefront of the revenue that they make, former SCSU student athlete Sidney Jones of New Haven stated. 

According to an article by Steve Berkowitz of USA Today, the southeastern football conference generated $721 million in revenue for 2019. 

Seeing this as a difficult situation, Sidney Jones believes that health and safety is most important, but understands why certain sports are having their season.

The NCAA Division I Football Bowl Subdivision programs are soundly moving along in the season with zero intentions of slowing down. The thought-provoking question is whether conferences like the MEAC will prosper in an unknown future in 2021.  

With the U.S. death toll closing in on 220,000 according to the Johns Hopkins coronavirus resource center, Morgan Athletes are still optimistic for a potential spring season. 

“I’m pretty confident that we’ll be able to do it because the way they split up the conference, they split it up with the north and south, the north being us, Delaware State, Norfolk State and Howard which is all very close commute for all,” said Maggio.    

The in-conference play will make life easier for all division sports to have a healthy, productive and fun season. Mykaela Ross see’s the responsibility resting on the shoulders of Morgan’s finest:  “If we all take it upon ourselves to do the things that we say we’re going to do, wear our masks and stay socially distanced and follow the strategic guidelines, then we should be allowed to play.” said Ross.   

The writer is a student in the Morgan State University School of Global Journalism and Communication.