The University of the Virgin Islands won’t have any of its athletic teams traveling stateside for the foreseeable future.
School officials announced Thursday that the decision had been made to cancel its spring 2021 athletic season due to the rising number of COVID-19 cases on the U.S. mainland.
According to UVI Athletics Director Jerel Drew, the decision to call the spring 2021 season — and by extension, the winter season for basketball — came because of where most of the Buccaneers’ games would have been played.
“We’re starting to see a lot of rising cases of COVID in the area where we consider, and the [National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics] considers, as hot zones — Florida, Georgia, South Carolina and Louisiana. That’s where 100% of our competitions would take place,” Drew said in an interview with The Daily News.
“And with the travel — where we would have our students traveling from, coming into some of the major hub airports – even with social distancing, we just felt that it was in the best interest for the safety of our student-athletes, coaches and other athletic personnel to cancel and reevaluate for the coming fall , and put student safety first.”
The decision affects all of UVI’s athletic teams — men’s and women’s cross country, men’s and women’s soccer, men’s and women’s basketball and men’s and women’s track and field.
The Buccaneers’ cross country and soccer programs had pushed their seasons back from the fall of 2020 to spring 2021 — which generally begins at the college level in mid- to-late February — after the coronavirus pandemic struck. Meanwhile, the basketball teams would have been in the closing weeks of its schedule, while track and field is generally a spring season sport.
While reported cases of COVID-19 in the U.S. Virgin Islands are relatively small — just under 1,600 as of Thursday — the numbers on the mainland U.S. have been spiking recently. Florida is third nationally with 1.02 million cases, Georgia is sixth (464,000 cases), Louisiana is 21st (242,000 cases) and South Carolina is 24th (221,000 cases).
The spikes, in turn, has affected college athletic programs. For example, Florida Memorial University, an NAIA school outside of Miami, had to cancel its entire fall sports season in mid-October after more than 100 student-athletes tested positive for COVID-19.
“We screen our kids, and the NAIA mandates that we screen daily and send those results in. As one athletic director pointed out, ‘We’re one COVID case away from a complete shutdown,’” said Drew, who added that no UVI student-athletes have tested positive.
One thing that is taking the sting away from not competing, according to Drew, is last month’s ruling by the NAIA’s Council of President to not charge fall and winter student-athletes a year of eligibility. A decision is soon to be reached on doing the same for spring athletes.
“We’ve had a conversation with all of our student-athletes, and our coaching staff as well,” Drew said. “They all understood and supported [the decision to cancel]. … They see what’s going on back in the mainland, and realize how bad things are going.
“Just knowing that things may be shut down as far as competition — that doesn’t mean we’re not going to still have our practices and things like that. It means that we’re doing this to protect them, and look forward to get them ready to jump out of this gym when the fall comes.”