Many seniors who play spring sports had their final seasons in Oxford suddenly cut short when the SEC announced last week that the remainder of all competition in the 2019-20 academic year was officially cancelled because of the global coronavirus pandemic.
The baseball team was in the middle of a historic start with a 16-game win streak, but other spring sports also lost promising seasons.
The softball season was in full swing heading into SEC play. The men’s and women’s golf and tennis teams had just started their spring tournaments while football, soccer and several other squads on campus were set to begin preparations for next fall.
Senior golfer Kennedy Swann transferred to Ole Miss from Clemson before the 2019 spring season and was a key contributor on the squad that brought in the first program SEC title and second consecutive NCAA Championship appearance.
The team was on its way to another strong season this spring, already holding a program record of four first place finishes before the remaining tournaments were cancelled.
“It’s frustrating because everyone is playing their best golf but we can’t play,” Swann said. “I understand now what the NCAA did, but I think we are still all in shock that it ended so quickly.”
Senior catcher Autumn Gillespie is a part of one of the most accomplished classes in Ole Miss softball history, but she won’t have the opportunity to continue the tradition of postseason softball in Oxford this year.
“I’m still pretty sad about the whole situation,” she said. “I was shocked about how fast these decisions were made. I don’t think I truly understood the severity of the situation up to that point.”
Student-athletes’ post-graduation plans have also been affected — like any other graduating senior — with the sports world on hold for the foreseeable future. Swann and Gillespie said the plan is to work in their respective sports after graduation, but were prepared to weigh all options, including putting jobs on hold for a year.
While the 2019-20 season is officially over, seniors could have the opportunity to return for another season. The NCAA Division I Council said on March 13 that “eligibility relief” would be discussed for student-athletes in spring sports.
“I’m certainly open to that,” SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey said in a teleconference last week. “From my perspective, yet, we have to understand the full set of implications, and I hope we’ll move through those rapidly because I think one of the assets for our young people is knowing definitively what their eligibility status will be going forward.
“I do want to say, I don’t think this is simply a senior issue. Everybody in our programs, particularly spring sports, had their season disrupted, so my encouragement is we take a broad look at what type of opportunities we offer going forward.”
The NCAA Division I Council will vote on March 30 concerning “eligibility relief for student-athletes whose seasons were impacted by COVID-19 and other related issues.”
Swann and Gillespie said they would consider another year in Oxford should the NCAA grant eligibility for spring sport athletes.
“My coaches have talked to me about possibly coming back for another season, and I told them I would keep an open mind,” Swann said. “I have things in place since I am graduating, but I’m not ruling anything out.”