Shenandoah University’s football team’s in-person recruiting efforts have come to a halt and the status of the Hornets’ upcoming spring practice is uncertain in the wake of actions taken by the school to combat the spread of COVID-19.
SU officials announced on Friday a two-week suspension of all athletic activities, a proclamation that Director of Intercollegiate Athletics Bridget Lyons said last week included the discouragement of any recruiting trips and in-person contact with recruits — including on-campus visits — made by the university’s coaches.
Hornets’ head football coach Scott Yoder said on Monday that Shenandoah’s spring practice, which was supposed to begin the first week in April, is a “question mark” as the uncertainty surrounding the new coronavirus pandemic has left everyone wondering what the next few weeks hold in store.
Yoder added that a meeting last week with SU’s football coaches determined that the program was about 75 percent done with its 2020 recruiting class, with about 35 recruits giving Shenandoah verbal commitments and a “good chunk” of those having already made a financial deposit with the school.
“I feel comfortable with that,” Yoder said on Monday morning. “The problem is that this next month we were supposed to get the next 15 (recruits), and because we’re not hosting — and even their high school careers are kind of thrown into disarray right now — I can’t look into the crystal ball and say what that’s gonna be. We’ve typically done a ton of recruiting visits around spring ball, so we have kids come in and see a spring-ball practice. We were typically getting a lot of commitments out of those types of visits, and obviously that now is a huge question mark. We’ll just kind of play it by ear, but we’re in a good spot with numbers, so I’m not panicking. We’re just in uncharted waters.”
Under normal circumstances, Yoder said Shenandoah’s spring football practice would begin at the start of April (Yoder said he tends to start SU’s spring ball later in the school year in pursuit of better weather) and end as Winchester’s annual Apple Blossom Festival ramps up at the end of that month.
The NCAA allows Division III football programs five weeks to conduct out-of-season practice, during which teams are allowed a total of 16 days of practice, which is conducted without pads at the DIII level. Yoder said he’s typically condensed Shenandoah’s spring practice to a four-week window, and he added that teams are required to have their out-of-season practices completed by the end of the school year.
That timeline limits Shenandoah’s ability to delay its spring practice without altogether canceling it. SU, which has moved to online-only classes as part of the response to COVID-19, was originally scheduled to hold its final classes of the spring semester on May 9.
“Really I don’t have much wiggle room to move it back unless we come back and the school calendar changes because they say we need more time,” Yoder said. “… Really we’re just in a huge holding pattern. The thing is, I think everybody’s in the same boat. I don’t think any school’s gaining an advantage at all. I don’t want to say it’s not a big deal, but I think there’s a lot bigger deals going on right now than our spring practice. Obviously the No. 1, as far as school, is academically and all our guys staying on top of things in kind of a new environment.”
On the recruiting front, Yoder, citing the rapidly evolving nature of the nation’s response to the new coronavirus pandemic, said SU coaches were initially discouraged from holding overnight recruiting visits but have since been told no one is allowed to visit the campus.
“And honestly what would be the point? They’re not gonna see the school the way the school normally is, so I don’t think it benefits anybody there,” Yoder said.
“Not many kids are doing their first visits right now but that’s been put on a major pause and you just wonder how that’s gonna affect decisions,” he added. “It’s one thing to reschedule a visit but we can’t even tell the kid a date that we know he can come.”
Yoder noted that whether it is viewed as an advantage or a disadvantage, Shenandoah was on its spring break last week as the dominoes started to fall across the sports landscape nationwide as various leagues reacted to the pandemic.
“Our guys have been lifting with the strength coach and all that stuff and the big thing last week when things started changing very quickly, we reached out to all of our guys knowing that a lot were at home,” Yoder said. “Some were traveling or whatever with the break and (we wanted) to make sure they’re ready for the academic portion as far as kind of switching to online. Some guys’ home situations are different than others, so making sure they’re good with all that was the biggest thing.”