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Former WPIAL athletes react to Ivy League cancelling fall sports

The league announced Wednesday that it will not hold sports this upcoming semester due to the coronavirus pandemic.
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Zane Dudek imagines he will be spending many of his Saturdays on the golf course this fall.

It’s not exactly the day and place you would expect one of the top running backs in the Ivy League to be hanging out that time of year.

For student-athletes in the Ivy League, there will be no fall sports season. The league announced Wednesday that it will not hold sports this upcoming semester because of COVID-19. The conference is the first in Division I to make such a move. More could follow. The Ivy League was also the first Division I conference to cancel its 2020 spring season.

“With the information available to us today regarding the continued spread of the virus, we simply do not believe we can create and maintain an environment for intercollegiate athletic competition that meets our requirements for safety and acceptable levels of risk, consistent with the policies that each of our schools is adopting as part of its reopening plans this fall,” the Ivy League Council of Presidents said in a statement.

In addition to football, the other sports impacted are cross country, field hockey, soccer and volleyball. The decision also affects the fall portion of winter sports, including basketball. No sports will be played until at least Jan. 1. A decision has not been made about winter or spring sports or whether fall sports might be played in the spring.

The news impacts quite a few student-athletes from Western Pennsylvania, including more than a dozen who play Ivy League football. One of them is Dudek, an Armstrong graduate and the fifth-leading rusher in WPIAL history. Dudek, a senior at Yale, has led the Bulldogs to two league titles and has been their leading rusher two of the past three seasons.

“I was kind of expecting it at this point,” Dudek said. “Back in April and May, I had optimism. Once June came around and things were getting worse, that’s when me and my buddies started thinking we weren’t going to play, at least in the fall. If we [play] in the spring, great. I’d love it. I’d love to get it in and graduate. If not, I understand.”

Dudek said he hasn’t been without football in the fall since he began playing when he was 6 years old. Likewise with Seneca Valley graduate Jake Stebbins, a sophomore linebacker at Cornell.

“This is obviously pretty devastating for me. I had thoughts that maybe this could happen, but it never fully processed in my mind. A fall without football will be weird,” said Stebbins, a second-team all-Ivy League pick last season and a finalist for the Jerry Rice Award, given to the best freshman in the FCS.

Hannah Schupansky is an Oakland Catholic graduate who runs cross country at Yale. A sophomore, Schupansky was disappointed to hear the news, but admitted there’s a small bit of consolation for her and her teammates because they all compete on the track team, too. The track season isn’t until the spring.

“I was a little surprised they cancelled everything with no other provisions. To hear they might be doing that with winter and possibly spring sports is even more surprising,” Schupansky said.

The other football players with WPIAL ties are Columbia’s Mason Tomlin (Shady Side Academy) and Dom Dodson (Central Catholic), Dartmouth’s Ethan Maenza (North Allegheny), Niko Mermigas (North Allegheny) and Thomas Hartnett (Central Catholic), Harvard’s Jake Lugg (North Allegheny), Penn’s Khalil Weathers (Central Catholic), Micah Morris (Fox Chapel) and Josh Casilli (Peters Township), Princeton’s David Harvey (Mt. Lebanon) and Yale’s Rodney Thomas (Central Catholic).

Tomlin, son of Steelers coach Mike Tomlin, is one of four freshmen in the group. Hartnett, Lugg and Casilli are the others. While obviously not expecting his freshman year to begin this way, Tomlin said that in one regard this could be helpful to him and other rookies.

“There are positives and negatives to this,” he said. “This will give me a year to develop physically. I’ve just been trying to focus on controlling what I can control and just trying to stay ready. Even if we play in the spring, that might give me six months.”

Seniors such as Dudek are in a much tougher spot, but there are options. One is taking a gap semester or gap year. In the Ivy League, student-athletes have only eight semesters of eligibility. There are no redshirts. If there is football in the spring, Dudek will be fine. He could play and graduate. But if there is no football until fall of 2021, Dudek said there’s a good chance he will take a gap semester. He would not take any classes in the spring, and then play football in the fall, which would serve as his final semester.

“I’ll probably take classes online in the fall. If we don’t play in the spring, I’ll probably take the spring off and come back next fall,” said Dudek, a political science major.

Maenza, Mermigas and Thomas are also seniors.

Stebbins said he is also considering a gap semester, adding that “there are a lot of variables that go into [making a decision].”

Another option is transferring to an FBS school. Dudek said he would entertain any offers, but unless it’s a “perfect situation,” he will finish at Yale and try to help the Bulldogs win another league title. Dudek must also take into account his NFL ambitions. There could be a lot of uncertainty regarding the 2021 draft, particularly if there is no college football at all in the fall or spring.

Dudek couldn’t help but let out a small chuckle when thinking about how his senior year is about to play out.

“I couldn’t have asked for a worse year for this to happen, right?” he said. “So many things are up in the air. My future. Jobs. Football. It’s crazy.”

Brad Everett: beverett@post-gazette.com and Twitter: @BREAL412.

First Published July 9, 2020, 12:15pm

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