As James Madison players and coaches adjust to life without competition, organized practices and in some cases even a place to work out, they must also get used to changes to their academic structure.
In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, JMU effectively shut down campus this month and moved to a distance learning program for the remainder of the semester. University students, including student-athletes, have been left trying to sort out the details of an unprecedented situation.
As students shift to online classes, many of the resources often available to JMU athletes to help with time management and other aspects of their busy schedules are no longer at their fingertips.
“I think it’s a challenge for anybody,” Dukes women’s basketball coach Sean O’Regan said. “It certainly would have been a challenge for me back when I was in college. It’s just out of your routine. You don’t have the same study area, or your usual study groups or your tutor. It might be different from how you best learn. It’s all just different now.”
JMU, like most Division I athletic departments, generally provides plenty of resources for its student-athletes. That is vital as they must meet a minimum eligibility requirement and stay on track for a degree while balancing up to 20 hours a week in athletic activity plus travel for their sports.
At James Madison, student-athletes typically have access to the McMillin Academic Center six days a week. The McMillin Center houses computer labs, reading rooms, tutoring programs and other resources for players in all of JMU’s varsity programs.
Like several other on-campus resources, it is shut down as JMU practices social distancing policies.
Many JMU athletes are happy they can continue to pursue their degrees even if they are stuck at home, but it takes plenty of self-motivation without coaches and academic advisors present for daily reminders.
Kamiah Smalls, the Colonial Athletic Association Player of the Year in women’s basketball, is set to graduate at the end of the semester and is keeping up with her studies from her home in Philadelphia.
“It’s much more challenging,” Smalls said. “It’s kind of like a bad gift. Like, I’m so happy it’s online but it’s very hard to stay disciplined and not wait until the last minute to do certain things. It’s definitely an adjustment but I’m so grateful for the professors and people that put in time to make it happen.”
JMU and most other colleges and universities have figured out how their students are going to study for the rest of the spring, but there are other questions yet to be answered as the schools and the NCAA sort out all the ramifications of canceling seasons.
It remains a possibility athletes in spring sports will be granted an extra year of eligibility. For student-athletes who were either set to leave school with a degree or enter a graduate program either at JMU or another institution, that possibility raises even more questions.
“Those are the conversations that we’re having,” JMU lacrosse coach Shelley Klaes-Bawcombe said. “We’re trying to solicit information. They are all in different situations. A lot of our girls already had jobs or they had applied to grad schools. So now, are they going to put any of that on hold to return for another year of play? What would they do academically? For the girls who had visions of going to grad school, does JMU have what they want or are they forced to go and look at other schools?”
For new JMU men’s basketball coach Mark Byington, keeping his team in line academically is just one more aspect of the transition from Georgia Southern made more difficult by the quarantine efforts.
But Byington said the Dukes players along with the previous coaching staff had made that part as easy as possible for him.
“For everything to go online this fast, it’s tough,” said Byington, named to the post Friday. “But for all the reports I’m getting on academics about the guys is they are doing a great job with it. That’s hard. Some people just don’t learn very easily taking online classes, but so far everybody is in great academic shape. That’s a credit to the academic departments.”