Credit: Harvard Athletics photo

As Division I men’s and women’s basketball kick off this week, one conference won’t be on the hardwood. “The Ivy League Council of Presidents has decided that league schools will not conduct intercollegiate athletics competition in winter sports during the 2020-’21 season,” read the announcement. It was a unanimous decision prompted by the current increasing rates of COVID-19.

While it wasn’t a big surprise and everyone understands the rationale, it still came as a huge disappointment. In her 39th season as the head women’s basketball coach at Harvard University, Kathy Delaney-Smith has seen pretty much everything, but this is unprecedented. While the seniors have another year of eligibility, the fact that the Ivy League doesn’t have athletic scholarships means the three seniors who chose to enroll this year will either use that year to get a graduate school scholarship elsewhere or they’ll move into their careers.

“The sad part is they have all lost their senior year at Harvard,” said Delaney-Smith. “I’ve been on phone with each one of them, talking with them and telling them that we’ll help them move forward. One has already been signed.”

Harvard only invited first-year students to campus for the fall semester, and the team’s three first-year players who chose to enroll have been training within the guidelines. To keep the other players motivated and looking toward the 2021-’22 season, Delaney-Smith and her staff are in consistent communication with them.

“This is a time when I believe in the mental game and working on all your mental skills,” said Delaney-Smith. “We’re using our program and our sport as a classroom.”

Princeton University women’s basketball coach Carla Berube said she is sad and a bit heartbroken for her players and staff but knows the Ivy League presidents made a well thought out decision. “It’s tough, especially for our three seniors, who won’t wear the Princeton jersey again,” said Berube.

This semester, Princeton undergraduates have been on remote learning, so the team was not training together. She assumes if the seniors choose to use their final year of eligibility, they will do it somewhere they can get an athletic scholarship. The team has not been together since March and all communication has been via Zoom calls or Facetime. This season, the team will likely watch film together and individually. The coaching staff will give the players skills and drills to work on.

“We have a pretty driven, highly motivated crew,” said Berube. “They’re going to work really hard to get better and use this time wisely to elevate their games and be ready to go when we get back together, probably next September.”