Most teams’ seasons end in defeat.
After all, only one team wins it all in the end. Whether it’s baseball or football, softball or basketball, there’s only one championship at the end of each season.
Every final defeat and every season ender is a tough pill to swallow.
But that was taken to a whole new level as college athletes saw their seasons — and in some cases their careers — come to a drastic end when the NCAA canceled all spring sports championships last Thursday due to the coronavirus.
“(Jacksonville State coach Jim Case) didn’t really know what to say,” said Corley Woods, a Benjamin Russell graduate and current JSU senior baseball player. “It was new to everybody and I think it was one of the hardest exit meetings he’s had with a team. Every year, even if you win it all, the seniors know they are playing their last game; you know when it’s coming.
“Usually if you lose a game, there’s something you could’ve done better but now it was like there was nothing you could’ve done.”
Since the cancellation and pleas by many, including Woods, on Twitter, the NCAA has announced it will grant a year of eligibility to any student-athlete who misses his or her spring season. However, like so many organizations, details of the NCAA’s promise have been uncertain.
“I’ve been keeping up with it every day,” Woods said. “The initial statement was everybody in college will get another year then it was just seniors would get another year. I don’t really know what’s about to happen. But without a doubt, I would be back next year if I can.”
Woods was already planning to be back at JSU for another semester and graduate in December so he said it made sense for him to return.
Although many people’s thoughts immediately went to seniors and how they would handle their final seasons being so rapidly cut short, they weren’t the only ones affected. West Alabama junior baseball player Connor Brooks, also a Benjamin Russell graduate, is hopeful the NCAA will grant an extra year of eligibility to all college athletes.
“I think that would be the fair thing,” Brooks said. “We all lost a year; it’s not just seniors. For me, I won’t be playing the game after next year if they don’t give us another year. I just got an entire year snatched away from me and it’s never fun for that to happen. It wasn’t an injury; it was just taken away and there was nothing you can do it control it.”
Woods also pointed out while the decision is easy for him to return, there are several seniors whose futures are hanging in the balance of the NCAA’s decisions. Several of his friends and teammates already have jobs lined up, and they need to know if they’ll be granted another year so they can make the best choices for themselves.
While both Brooks and Woods are still busy with classes, they are filling their times in different ways. For now, both are still living in their off-campus houses but Brooks plans to return home to the area soon. Woods said he’s taken a break from going to the gym because he is trying to maintain good social distancing.
He joked he and some other Benjamin Russell graduates stayed up till 5 a.m. one morning playing video games.
“That tells you how bored we are,” Woods said with a laugh.
As for Brooks, he’s maintaining a regular workout schedule. West Alabama has facilities limited to only baseball players, so that makes him more comfortable with going to the gyms and things of those nature.
“I’m still throwing weight balls and working with my trainer here with things like hip mobility and all that,” Brooks said. “It’s still a full schedule of classes and baseball but without the actual baseball part, so it’s been hard.”
Another big thing missing when the sports world was put on hold was that sheer camaraderie gained from being around teammates. Both Brooks and Woods said they have been finding ways to still connect with their teammates but it’s obviously been different.
“I’m still staying in touch with them but unfortunately some of the seniors I didn’t even get to say bye to and I don’t know if I’ll ever see them again,” Brooks said. “We’re just figuring stuff out right now. Baseball has been a part of our lives for so long and now we gotta find ways to fill our time.”
Woods said, “We’re still talking on a group message all the time, and we’re just trying to joke around. We’re hoping we’re going to come back for next year and maybe everything will work out for the best. The first night (after the cancellation) was pretty rough but other than that, we’ve been pretty good in keeping our heads up and hoping for the best.”