The Northeastern women’s basketball team is practicing a play, but the defense isn’t putting up much of a fight.
That’s because the opposing team is a set of plastic cones.
In an effort to minimize contact and help protect student athletes from COVID-19, women’s basketball head coach Kelly Cole has the players practice five-on-five scenarios against an imaginary team of cones.
Even though it’s not ideal, Cole says players are willing to change their usual routines if it means they can be back on the court again. “We’re just excited for the season to start,” she says.
After an unprecedented six-month hiatus, varsity sports across Northeastern have resumed practice in a limited capacity.
The basketball and hockey seasons are expected to start at the end of November, volleyball and cross country will start in February, and field hockey and soccer will most likely start in March.
As of now, the spring sports season will begin as usual—though all dates are subject to change on account of the pandemic. Because the new schedule pushes some fall sports into the winter, weather could also be a factor to consider. Teams that usually compete outdoors might not have games right away due to winter conditions in Boston.
“It would be very difficult for us to play a soccer game on February 1 in Boston, so I expect that the season will start sometime in March, but we’re still waiting on the [NCAA] schedule,” says Scott MacDonald, associate athletics director, referring to the National Collegiate Athletic Association’s updated schedule.
Another difference this year: At indoor games, there will be no fans for at least the remainder of 2020, though Northeastern will re-evaluate this policy next semester. As always, all games will be streamed live.
Also, many teams could be larger this year due to changes in the NCAA’s eligibility rules. Typically, students are eligible to compete in only four seasons over the span of five years. But because last spring’s season and this fall’s season were cut short, the NCAA announced that the 2020-21 academic year won’t count toward fall or spring student athletes’ eligibility.
That means senior athletes who might not have been eligible this year are allowed to return for an extra season—and if they’ve graduated, they can return as graduate students or finish their final season of eligibility on another team.
The NCAA is expected to approve the same extension for winter sports.
In preparation for their amended season, which will begin on Nov. 28, the women’s basketball team has resumed practice at Solomon Court in the Cabot Physical Education Center.
“It’s mostly skill development and conditioning,” says Cole. “We’re working on getting them back into basketball shape.”
To help keep the team safe, everyone is required to wear masks, and practices are spaced out, with an hour in between each team’s practice to allow for thorough cleaning of the space and ventilation of the area, says MacDonald.
Locker rooms and bleachers are closed to prevent close contact between players. Each player has her own chair where she can store her belongings during practice.
The team will play 25 games this season, seven of which will be outside of Northeastern’s conference.
During a normal season, the team would typically travel around the country and internationally to compete. But this year, to minimize travel and prevent the need for overnight stays, the team will only compete regionally.
To kick off the women’s basketball season, the Huskies will play Providence College on Nov. 25 at home—“fingers crossed,” Cole says.
Despite the roadblocks the team has faced this year, Cole sees a silver lining in these unexpected changes.
“I might be looking at it with rose-colored glasses, but maybe it was a good break from the intensity and from each other,” Cole says of the team’s extended break before practices resumed. “Sometimes you lose sight of the opportunities you have until they’re taken away.”
Unlike basketball, the baseball season is expected to begin as usual on Feb. 12 and conclude on June 30, though Mike Glavine, head coach of the baseball team, anticipates some changes come spring.
In mid-March, the baseball season was cut short the same night the Huskies won their first home game of the year. “That was the night the NBA shut down,” Glavine recalls. “After that, we all just went our separate ways.”
The team stayed in touch throughout the spring and summer over Zoom, but players hadn’t been with each other physically until the end of September when they started practicing.
As is required of all Northeastern athletes, the baseball players wear masks during practice and maintain a healthy distance from one another—which, Glavine says, is thankfully pretty easy to do in their sport.
The baseball team is usually limited to 35 players, but adjusted NCAA regulations have removed that cap for the season, allowing space for both freshmen and returning athletes.
This season, the Northeastern baseball team has 40 players. “I don’t know exactly how it will affect the freshmen in terms of playing time,” Glavine says. “But the freshmen understand that it’s a unique experience and that the seniors deserve to be back.”
Overall, Glavine says the players are already getting back into the swing of things, and the team has really good chemistry.
“We’re just really thankful for all the protocols the university has put in place to be able to reopen and start the season,” he says. “It’s not quite the same, but it’s pretty close. And that’s all we can ask for.”