Baseball vs Indiana

Head Baseball Coach Tony Vitello with team during game against Indiana on Feb. 22, 2019 at Lindsay Nelson Stadium.

The sports world received a shock on Mar. 11 when an NBA game between the Jazz and Thunder was postponed due to Jazz player Rudy Gobert testing positive for the COVID-19. 

From there the sports world fell apart as every single major league has either postponed or canceled the remainder of their seasons. The NCAA followed suit as it announced that all winter and spring championships would be canceled including March Madness and the College World Series that was not set to take place for another three months. 

On Tuesday, March 17, the SEC decided to barr all athletics for the remainder of the 2019-2020 school year ending all hopes of any sport being played at any point before next fall.

Later on Tuesday, the coaches of various Tennessee athletic teams met with the media to discuss the situation and answer any questions they could about what is happening. Here is what Tennessee baseball’s head coach Tony Vitello had to say:

“The guys have taken it in stride, the first time we met they were delirious because, till then, our message had been we’re just taking a timeout until March 30 or April 15,” Vitello said. “The world they live in now is so much different than mine with social media, they are seeing stuff unfold before the official announcements come out.”

“We don’t know where the season would’ve taken us, but either we were winning the championship or we were getting punched in the gut with a season ending loss, but instead they were sitting there thinking the situation wasn't looking good, then it got worse, and then worse and they just had to watch it unravel slowly in front of them.”

The NCAA announced that senior student athletes in spring sports will receive an extra year of eligibility due to their season being cut so short. One member of the media asked Vitello how the coaching staff would handle the situation.

“Every year, we are dealing with who's coming and who's going and who's getting drafted, who do we have to replace, and this year it's going to be that but on steroids,” Vitello said. “If we had all the answers we would have a better idea of what our next move is and what our team will look like next year. … There are still things to do, and there is only so far we can go until we get more answers because we certainly don’t have all of those, I mean our sport with 11.7 (scholarships), holy cow it is going to be difficult.”

The government has begun placing travel bans that limit who can go where, and that can be a big problem for student athletes who are attending a school from out of the country. Vitello was asked how those guys are handling the situation and if they are able to get home. 

“Some guys immediately went home because they were able to, but now campus is encouraging everyone to go home,” Vitello said. “Some guys just wanted to hunker down in their apartment and see how things go, but now they too are starting to make their way home. Matt Turino is from Canada and he’s home in Toronto right now.”

“Liam Spence is the one guy who is really unfortunate, his family came in to watch him play and they had to hustle back to Australia to make sure there was no controversy for them getting back home and even then I think they have to be quarantined once they make it back home. Liam is the one guy that is left here.”

The MLB draft has provided many coaches around the country with concerns of how it will affect their roster going into the next season with everyone having another year of eligibility. 

“I can’t speak for all coaches, but my gut reaction is that there’s no rush at all, but it is more sequential,” Vitello said. “You don’t want to find out this, that, and the other last minute and now high school kids are freaking out over their playing time. You only get so much time between finding all the logistics out and the draft popping up. I think it is more of a sequence with how on hold everything is, I don’t think there’s a rush to it so there can be time well spent on a diplomatic approach where it is ‘let’s get to the best answers possible.’ No matter what they decide, not everyone is going to be happy.”

Vitello and the rest of the Tennessee baseball team will continue to look for answers through this unprecedented situation. The team will await word from the NCAA on how teams will have to go about roster spots for next year and players will have to see how the MLB draft is shaping up before they choose to declare or decide to stay at school for another year.

Depending on what the NCAA decides, the next few years in college sports could be very interesting to see what long term effects the league’s response will have on student athletes.

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