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VOL. 44 | NO. 12 | Friday, March 20, 2020

Cancellations disappoint Vols pursuing championships

By Rhiannon Potkey

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All-American swimmer Erika Brown, a senior, was part of the Vols’ team that won the first SEC title in the program’s history. A chance at a national title will no longer be possible with the NCAA Championship meets cancelled.

-- Tennessee Athletics/Utsports.Com

There will be no chance to win NCAA titles, no March Madness and likely no more games in baseball and softball or matches in tennis and golf.

Like nearly the entire sports world, University of Tennessee athletics came to a grinding halt last week due to concerns of the COVID-19 outbreak.

The SEC is prohibiting coaches of all sports from conducting off-campus recruiting activities or hosting prospective student-athletes on official or unofficial campus visits at this time.

Coaches may email or call recruits.

The NCAA canceled the championships for all winter and spring sports, and the SEC suspended all organized team activities, including competitions, team and individual practices, through April 15.

The Tennessee swimmers and divers and track and field athletes were preparing to participate in their respective NCAA Championships when they were informed the events had been canceled. Both sports had athletes with extremely good chances to win national titles and medals at each event.

The Lady Vols swimming team, led by senior All-American Ericka Brown, just captured the first SEC title in program history, and was ranked No. 3 in the country.

The Lady Vols basketball team was waiting to receive a likely at-large bid into the NCAA tournament when the NCAA made its decision to cancel March Madness. The men’s team was about to tipoff its game against Alabama in the SEC Tournament in Nashville when play was stopped.

The spring sport athletes were given a ray of hope when the NCAA announced it was granting them waivers for an extra year of eligibility because their season was cut short.

But there are many details to work out, including if the NCAA will expand scholarship limits and roster sizes and how schools can afford to fund all the extra scholarships. As part of a Power 5 conference with a lucrative television deal, Tennessee won’t have as much worry with the funding as some other schools.

In a statement released to the public, Tennessee athletic director Phillip Fulmer said “dialogue is ongoing” regarding multiple issues stemming from the unprecedented set of circumstances.

“We are all in uncharted territory, and there is no manual to guide our decision making,” Fulmer said. “However, we must continue to act with abundant caution while prioritizing health and safety throughout our campuses and communities.”

By only suspending team activities through April 15, the SEC left the door open for the potential resumption of play for spring sports. But it’s nowhere even close to a guarantee, and remains an extremely fluid situation.

Regardless, spring sports can’t compete for championships, meaning baseball and softball have no shot at reaching the College World Series, and golf, tennis, rowing and outdoor track athletes can’t win individual or team titles.

“I am heartbroken for our student-athletes who have poured their heart and soul into their training and now find themselves in a season of uncertainty,” Fulmer said. “There are many lingering questions related to academics, eligibility, training schedules, housing and various other internal operations for which we do not yet have answers.”

The Vols football team began spring practice last week, and were able to get one day on the field before the sessions were halted.

Tennessee’s Orange & White Game spring game will not be played April 18. The university says the status of the game will be determined at a later date.

The Tennessee Football Coaches Clinic, originally scheduled for March 26-28, was canceled, and Tennessee’s Pro Day, originally scheduled for March 26, has been postponed until further notice.

The Tennessee softball team was about to board a flight to Texas to play its SEC-opener against Texas A&M when the Lady Vols were informed their season was at the least suspended.

Tennessee coaches and athletes have not been made available to the media, but Tennessee softball co-head coach Karen Weekly posted a comment on social media.

“Of course we are sad that we are not together playing softball. That’s stating the obvious. But this is not about balls and strikes. The sadness stems from the simple fact that we cannot be together,” Weekly wrote. “Team25 has an incredible capacity to care and connect. That was never more evident than in the past 48 hours as we leaned on one another to process the ever-changing situation. Now, what they love most – being together – must be sacrificed for the greater good.”

Any fans that purchased single-game tickets for baseball and softball directly through AllVols.com or Tennessee Athletics will be refunded in the form of the original payment. Fans will not need to request a refund; the purchases will be automatically refunded in seven to 10 business days.

Tennessee Athletics said it will be in communication with baseball and softball season-ticket holders related to refunds based on the restriction duration.

“I understand the frustration that comes along with canceled events, ticket refunds and many lost opportunities to celebrate Tennessee wins and championships,” Fulmer said.

“But I’m confident that these circumstances will stir the passion of the world’s most extraordinary fanbase, and that your love for the Vols and Lady Vols will shine through like never before when the action eventually resumes.”

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