Sporting Life

Silent spring

The sports season was canceled, but some Yalies satisfied their competitive urges online.

Evan Frondorf ’14, a risk analyst in San Francisco, writes frequently about sports for the magazine.

There was no action on the playing fields this spring, but Yale and Harvard squared off in the video game League of Legends for an Ivy charity tournament in April. View full image

This spring, there was no clank of the bat at Yale Field. There was no opportunity for the top-ten men’s lacrosse team to avenge last year’s loss in the national championship game, and the chance for a heavyweight crew four-peat at nationals was put on hold. As the COVID-19 pandemic swiftly changed the rhythms of everyday life, organized athletics were among the first rituals to be affected. On March 11, the Ivy League became the first collegiate athletic conference to cancel its full spring season, after suspending its postseason basketball tournaments one day earlier. The rest of the NCAA and the professional sports world soon fell in line.

Hardest hit were the seniors who found their Yale careers abruptly truncated: for most, there would not be another shot at a title, at redemption, or at new personal records. “Looking in the eyes of our senior student-athletes to inform them of the decision was one of the most challenging and heartbreaking things I have ever had to do professionally,” says athletics director Vicky Chun. “To be honest, my heart still aches for them, but our decision was made with their health and safety in mind; therefore, I know it was the right call.”

While the NCAA did extend an extra year of eligibility to spring athletes, the Ivy League stuck to its long-standing principle of permitting student-athletes to compete only during their first four years of undergraduate enrollment. Like Harvard and Princeton, Yale decided not to change undergraduate rules so that athletes could withdraw from the spring semester and return in the spring of 2021. For most affected seniors, this means their only path to a fourth year of sports will be as a graduate transfer to another school.

Throughout the spring, the athletics department filled its website and social media feeds with virtual odes to the Class of 2020. “Nothing can replace the final season our student-athletes imagined,” says Chun. “That said, we worked hard to find ways to celebrate our student-athletes.”

Meanwhile, Yale students who had dispersed around the globe found other outlets for competition. In place of in-person residential college intramurals, students faced off in online games such as FIFA Soccer, Fortnite, chess, and Words With Friends. The Yale eSports Club organized a fundraising League of Legends tournament, featuring all Ivy schools as well as MIT and Stanford. “The best thing about e-sports is that it’s super, super accessible,” says the club’s events director, Lucy Liu ’21. “Everything is online and everyone has equal access. All you need is Wi-Fi and you can see what’s happening.”

The club received support from professional e-sports teams that sponsored the event and provided giveaways, and experienced “casters” streamed the action to online viewers. The full-day event raised over $11,000 for the World Health Organization’s COVID-19 Solidarity Response Fund. “E-sports has really risen to the occasion in this crisis to bring people together,” says Liu.

As for traditional sports, nobody could say at press time what the fall season will look like. “We are fortunate to have some of the world’s leading health experts as part of our Yale community to help us understand this novel virus and its impact on our campus,” says Chun. “I don’t think anyone can predict the future right now, but we are working in concert with health experts to make plans for how best to educate our students and allow them to participate in activities such as sports.”

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