What a difference a year makes. Exactly one year ago today, Syracuse football held its first summer workout with COVID-19 guidelines set in place. It was the university's initial look into what an athletic season during a pandemic would look like. Uncertainty and doubt plagued the season's outlook going into the fall, and many presumed that inevitably, play would be stopped prematurely.
Fast forward 365 days and Syracuse Director of Athletics John Wildhack addresses the state of SU athletics after a season unlike any other. Despite the many challenges COVID-19 presented, 'Cuse was able to hold 90% of its scheduled competitions across all sports (excluding rain-outs).
"I'm really proud of our student athletes, really really proud," expressed Wildhack who also accredited the coaches, athletic and medical staffers for pushing through in such a rigorous year.
No one could have foreseen such an unorthodox season playing out to its full extent, which is why the ACC initially received backlash for its plan to continue athletic operations. It wasn't the popular move at the time, but Syracuse made it through the pandemic rather seamlessly in a decision that Wildhack surely has no regrets about.
“It would have been easy for the university to decide we’re not going to hold in-person instruction in the fall. We chose a different path, and I’m pleased that we and the ACC chose the path that we did.”
With the university resuming fully in-person classes next fall and large events like the NY State Fair being open to 100% capacity, it seems as if Syracuse athletics will follow suit. However, they still need clearance from the Onondaga County Health Department on whether or not the Stadium will be open to full capacity come fall.
Almost 90% of student athletes have received at least one vaccination shot so far. The University has made strong efforts to encourage all student athletes get vaccinated. This includes hosting zoom calls with athletes and their families informing them on the effectiveness of the vaccine. For those who choose not to get vaccinated, a testing policy is set in place for them to get tested throughout the season to ensure immunity.
Nothings official yet on the status of the Stadium for this upcoming season, but Wildhack made sure to reiterate throughout his address, "the best way to ensure full capacity is to get vaccinated."
After the recent changing of the guard from John Desko to Gary Gait as men's lacrosse head coach, Wildhack welcomed new defensive coordinator Dave Pietramala to the Orange family. A two time champion as head coach with Johns Hopkins, Pietramala joins a staff that Wildhack praises for their distinguished reputations.
“(Pietramala) regarded as the best defensive player of his era, now teaming up with the best offensive player of his era (Gait),” gives men's lacrosse the staff that Wildhack believes can, "compete with any in the country.”
Regarding the head coaching vacancy for women's lacrosse, Wildhack revealed that there is a short list of contenders at the moment. The university will begin conducting interviews this week with an announcement coming in the near future.
Looking at another major head coaching position, 'Cuse basketball is still going strong with Jim Boeheim. However legendary ACC coaches Roy Williams of UNC and Mike Krzyzewski announcing their retirements has made some question how much longer Boeheim will be at the helm.
When asked about a possible succession plan for Boeheim, Wildhack talked about the excellence of assistant coaches Gerry McNamara and Adrian Autry and his firm belief that they will be head coaches one day. Whether that will be for the Orange is a question for the future. When it comes time to find a replacement for the most iconic man in Syracuse history, Wildhack believes they'll approach that situation the same way they did with the men's lacrosse head coaching position.
Wildhack cites that Gait got hired because,"we thought he was the best person to be the leader” and followed that by saying, "we’ll apply the same criteria to the men’s basketball program."
When asked about policy changes being made on state levels to the NIL (a players name, image and likeness), Wildhack emphasized the need to wait for federal legislation to make a ruling before Syracuse itself can take action. Nonetheless, Wildhack did make it known that Syracuse intends on supporting the cause so that athletes can start to profit off their NIL in the future.
"We are going to embrace NIL as an opportunity for our student athletes to appropriately leverage their name likeness and image for their profit.”
Wildhack concluded the conference by ensuring that an announcement will be made on women's jerseys being retired by the end of the year. The university intended on honoring those selected athletes last year, but with stadiums being empty throughout 2020, Wildhack felt it was more appropriate to wait for the Stadium to reopen to fans.
With one of the wildest years in Syracuse history in the books, the Orange head into the 2021-22 season with a lot less restrictions, which hopefully will lead to even more continued success.