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COVID-19 Poses Challenges To Mid-Major Softball Programs

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(Photo by Maine Athletics)

The repercussions of COVID-19 are proving to play a vital role in how college softball programs across the nation are handling constraints linked to financial deficits, especially at mid-major programs outside the Power Five Conferences. The lack of funds for athletic departments has limited roster sizes, equipment purchases, recruiting options and possible travel expenses contingent on if there is a season to play next spring.

Wright State University recently became the first Division I softball program to be cut and La Salle University followed suit soon after. As the NCAA continues to monitor the extent of the virus and its impact, college softball coaches are also faced with the limitations of virtual recruiting with a focus on skills videos.

With the Division I recruiting dead period now extended until January 2021, coaches have been met with recruiting uncertainties since last spring. They are also facing the uncertainty of whether or not there will be limits on the number of games their teams can play as well as the limits related to travel they will encounter.

As these dilemmas impact multiple conferences around the country, athletic departments are faced with handling the overwhelming number of teams that have had their fall season postponed until the spring. Thus, student-athletes and coaches alike are adjusting to contemplating the unknown, and what could be a very busy spring.

What is known right now is that fall practices are taking place for college softball teams all around the country. As those programs slowly get back into their practice routines, a new sense of normal has been established at programs like Maine's.

"Practices are limited to small group pods as of now," Maine head softball coach Mike Coutts told Softball America. "They were in eight-hour weeks of practice schedules. Then they moved to 20-hour practice weeks, which can have no more than 10 to a group."

Another consequence of COVID-19 is seen as many mid-major programs are prevented from buying new equipment for their student-athletes, ranging from new bats and gloves to practice apparel, due to budget cuts. The decision about how to allocate funds is often left up to the coaching staff, which decides whether or not to invest their limited resources in recruiting, equipment and/or travel.

As coaches are expected to make tough decisions in the upcoming months, this financial burden can be reflected in the new realities of many student-athletes on scholarship. Alexis Robertson, a junior at Delaware State University, spoke to Softball America about how budget cuts are affecting her academics as a student-athlete.

Robertson states, "The lack of funds is affecting me negatively. Due to budget cuts, my books and access codes are not covered anymore through my scholarships. Books and access codes are very expensive and paying out of pocket is not something I was planning on doing."

As most of Robertson's peers and fellow student-athletes face similar circumstances, the approach remains the same: to take college softball, and life in general, day by day in these uncertain and unprecedented times.

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