Since the cancelation and postponement of sports in mid-March due to the COVID-19 pandemic, sports leagues and teams — both professional and collegiate — have been planning and searching for ways to continue with their seasons.
From the collegiate perspective, the burden COVID-19 has placed on student-athletes can not be understated. Collegiate athletics have been affected in every aspect, with competition, eligibility and recruiting all directly impacted during the absence of play. To get a well-rounded perspective of the impact on athletes at Stony Brook, former Seawolves pitcher Tom Koehler shared his thoughts on athletics during the pandemic.
Inducted as a member of the Stony Brook Athletics Hall of Fame in 2016, Koehler spent four years pitching at Stony Brook from 2005 to 2008. In those four years, Koehler recorded 297 strikeouts and 17 wins, which rank third and ninth, respectively, among Seawolves pitchers all-time. The two-time America East All-Conference Second Team pitcher was selected in the 18th round by the then-Florida Marlins in 2008, made his Major League Baseball (MLB) debut in 2012 and just recently retired, concluding a seven-year playing career.
Uncertainty is a huge theme when it comes to sports and COVID-19, as many professional sports teams and leagues have had to improvise and adjust on the fly to continue to put on a good display of competition. With the postponement of fall sports in the America East Conference and other conferences across the country, Koehler said he believes athletes must be mentally prepared to not miss a beat.
“I think when you get to that level, all athletes are mentally prepared,” Koehler said. “Each one of those guys you see doing their thing is so routine-oriented and such hard workers that they are able to adjust on the fly… So sure, this is different. This is different for everybody, but I bet everybody is prepared.”
Koehler’s confidence in athletes is connected to his time at Stony Brook and lessons he learned as a student-athlete, playing for longtime head coach Matt Senk.
“All athletes in general are really good at time management, especially when you’re in college,” Koehler said. “If you use it as a positive, I think there’s room for a lot of guys to become better at what they are doing. But I also think there’s some guys who might slack off for the time being and not necessarily use the time well.”
In conjunction with his career as an MLB pitcher, Koehler also served as a player representative for the MLB Players Association during his playing days. However, he does not believe that observing how the MLB was able to play in 2020 would be helpful for the NCAA. Koehler noted that while they are both sports organizations, the NCAA could never function on the same scale as the MLB, citing financial reasons, and student-athlete courses and workload as the main differences.
“I think the MLB has done a very good job once the season has gotten started,” Koehler said.
He also expressed his disappointment in the contentious public negotiations that MLB endured before the season started, saying he wished the heated dialogue was “a little bit of a cleaner process,” but added that he was happy the players stood their ground and is “happy they are playing.”
Over time, fans will continue to see how sports and the rest of the world adjusts to COVID-19. Sports teams and organizations will continue to adapt and attempt to produce quality competition for both the public and their athletes. Whatever the future holds, Koehler believes that athletes, specifically collegiate student-athletes, are uniquely suited to perform during these times of uncertainty.