The Lost Generation of Mines Athletes

This article sucks. The fact that I even have to write about this situation that is unfolding before our eyes is a real horrible moment. Other than that this is the absolute lowest point of my Mines career. 

I have been the sports editor here at The Oredigger since the October break and am a sophomore here at Mines in geological engineering. I also work in the best job on campus with the athletic department, which I have done since my first day of school at Mines. Some of you may know me as Mop Guy, have had me scan your Blastercard, or seen me sprinting along the sidelines to keep up with Michael Zeman as he is running the length of the field for a touchdown. So in other words, I am very passionate about our athletes here. I love sports and Mines Athletics. Eli and I frequently argue in The Oredigger office about who the bigger Mines sports fan is. So what has transpired over  the past few weeks really has hit me hard and made this article even harder to write.

It seems like something out of a horror movie that has just happened. The Sunday night before the decision was made to shutter in-person classes and most of the campus I was finishing up an article that would preview the NCAA Division II Wrestling Championships with some quotes from the wrestlers who were competing. This was in addition to a preview for the NCAA Division II Track and Field National Championships and the NCAA Division II Basketball Tournament that were about to happen (Our swimmers were also competing this week.) There was also a short health article about you know what. The articles turned out really good and I was so excited to see how the athletes performed at their respective champions from Mines. All those articles turned out to be for nothing.

To give the one sentence summary about what happened just like at Mines the NCAA and RMAC restrictions went from 0 to 100 in a span of a few days. More specifically, the NCAA and then Mines limited attendance on all their events on March 11th as hundreds of conference and national championships were getting underway, but the plan was to still complete all the events that year. However, less than 24 hours later the NCAA announced that all national championship events would be cancelled. This was followed by the RMAC joining the NCAA in announcing that all athletic competitions for the remainder of the academic year would be cancelled. The next Mines athletic event will not take place for almost six months when Mines football kicks off their season at Angelo State on September 3rd at 6 pm.

Now thankfully the NCAA has done something and has enacted several pieces of legislation to help college athletes through this difficult time. They have granted an extra year of eligibility for all athletes in spring sports, waived scholarship restrictions, and have also waived most academic requirements. However, while this has helped lessen the blow for many athletes, there are still a ton of shortcomings with these pieces of legislation. First of all there will be no additional eligibility for winter sport athletes. This means the athletes who were days or even a couple hours away from competing for a national championship will not get a second chance for that title. It also means the likes of all the athletes at Mines who have exhausted their eligibility in winter sports have finished their athletic careers here. That means people like Luke Golter, Ben Topper, Robert Gambrell, Mia Wood, and all the other Seniors and Redshirt Seniors in winter sports have lost their last chance at becoming a bigger part of Mines athletics history. Mines athletics as a whole has also lost a chance at history. Entering the winter sports season Mines has a massive lead in the Learfield IMG College Director’s Cup, which is the award for the best athletic program as a whole in each division of college athletics. Mines led Western Washington with a score of 416 points to 299 points and the athletic program certainly had a chance of being named the best athletic program in Division II for the first time in history.

Another problem with some of these relief programs is that some athletes might not be able to take advantage of them. This is because some of these reforms are up to the choice of each school’s athletic department and don’t have to be used. While this is almost guaranteed to not be a problem here, as Mines’ athletic department has shown it will do whatever it can to help athletes, some athletes will not be as lucky. The University of Wisconsin-Madison for example has announced that it will not grant additional eligibility to any of its spring athletes this year and more programs might not elect to take some of the relief legislation due to what will likely be a major financial crisis in the NCAA as a result of lawsuits, potential player compensation, and a slew of other issues in addition to the COVID-19 crisis. While this was going to be a problematic scenario the next few years of college athletics it has turned a small burden into a catastrophic situation that could change college sports forever. A problem that is more likely here is that some Mines athletes will not take the relief as they will have very high paying jobs lined up for them after their senior academic year of school and will just go into the workforce which would be a more comfortable situation for them compared to spending another year as an athlete.

However, the biggest loss of all will be the chance at history these 2019-2020 teams had. The swimming team had already begun it’s national championship competition Mia Wood and Daphne Williams were less than two hours away from becoming Mines’ first individual female swimming national champion when the decision was made to cancel the events. Our wrestling and indoor track and field teams had already arrived at their respective national championships and were nearing the end of their two days of practice prior to their national championships. There were several #2 seeded teams and individuals for both of these teams in their respective competitions that would have had a chance at becoming national champions. The men’s basketball team was enroute to Texas for the first round of the NCAA tournament and was looking to win three games over the weekend to win the region and advance to the elite eight after just losing the conference championship game the week before. All our spring sports athletes had their seasons end just as they were beginning. The emotions expressed by the athletes in Eli’s article last month are likely going to be the tip of the iceberg. I could not and will not try to capture the emotions of the athletes affected by this because it would be wrong and impossible for me to do this. I will say though that I understand their hurt more than most though. Why? Because every team is special.

While most of the athletes who still have eligibility will return to Mines, the fact of the matter is that each team is special. Each year you walk onto the field, track, court, etc. long before the season’s events begin with a chance to be a part of something great. While there might be a lot of similarities with the team from the year before, you become a part of a team that has never been together before and will never come together again. In the case of our athletes they become a part of THE 2019-2020 Orediggers. It is a team they had one chance to make the most of and most members of the Oredigger athletics had that chance taken away from them through no fault of their own.

It is understandable that the governing bodies came to the conclusion that they did. I also know that Mines athletics will come back strong yet again next season and continue to make the entire Mines family proud. However, the chance that our athletes and all athletes had has been taken away this year and that is something that they can never get back. It will take a very long time before all of us directly affected by these decisions will be able to wrap our minds around what has happened. Some of us never will be able to fully comprehend our emotions from this decision. We have all lost something as a result of this pandemic, but our athletes have lost something special, unique, and personal compared to the rest of the student body. I just wanted to take this one last chance I have in The Oredigger this year to acknowledge and be thankful of all that our athletes have put in to try and give themselves a chance of doing something special. I also hope that you join me next year in supporting our Oredigger athletes like never before when we come back in September.

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