Syracuse Athletics Redefines 'Success' amid Pandemic

Jacob Payne

The debut of the newly renovated Carrier Dome is a landmark triumph that Syracuse Athletic Director John Wildhack says has been years in the making. The team set to christen the $118-million-dollar venture hasn’t been nearly as successful, though. At least, not in terms of wins and losses. The 0-2 Syracuse Orange will be the first step beneath the Dome’s brand-new roof, which is made from 8-million-pounds of steel designed to sustain up to 7,700-tons of snow. Wildhack expressed a desire to win games in the modernized facility when he spoke with members of the media on Thursday, but also said winning wasn’t everything.

"Success is: if you compete, you still want to win,” Wildhack reasoned. "So there is the competitive element. I'm not going to be dismissive of that. But in some ways, you know, success is also 'do you have the opportunity to play?' And we have had the opportunity to play."

One touchdown in two games doesn’t seem like a lot, but it’s a scenario other teams across the country would kill for. The University of Houston, for example, has had five of their games either postponed or cancelled due to the coronavirus pandemic. This included the suspension of four supposed season-openers. The Cougars have yet to play a game in 2020.

Houston isn’t the only program to see red X’s drawn through their schedule. Notre Dame’s game with Wake Forrest was rescheduled when seven Irish players tested positive for COVID-19. Notre Dame’s most recent opponent, South Florida, similarly delayed their match-up against Florida Atlantic for fear of the virus’ spread.

Wildhack’s game-plan doesn’t involve preparing for a physical opponent. It’s protecting against an invisible one.

"Part of it is, can you create a path to play in and play in a safe environment,” Wildhack said. “We know that we're week to week. And in some cases, kind of day to day. I think every instance is a learning opportunity for all of us in terms of how we do this and do this and conduct this as safe as we possibly can.”

Saturday’s game, just like every other game that’s been played to this point, is a setting which the conference has deemed safe for athletic competition. The State of New York, however, has not okayed the presence of fans at sporting events. Wildhack emphasized what he believed to be an important distinction between the seemingly contradictory standards.

"To me, it's two separate conversations,” Wildhack began. “One is: you know what the conference and all 15 schools of the conference are doing in terms of their testing and the daily health protocols and testing three times a week. And that's why we formed the ACC Medical Advisory Group. It's chaired by Dr. Cameron Wolfe from Duke, who's an infectious disease expert. We would never play unless we felt we could create a safe environment, as we possibly could.

"In terms of fans in the stands at this point, New York State is not allowing that for professional or collegiate sports. We respect their decision. At the same time, I'm hopeful that at some point we may be able to have limited attendance.”

Yes, Syracuse football has successfully participated in two games and are set to carry-out their third. But how long can it possibly last? As we’ve seen already, it takes just one positive case to shut-down multiple programs simultaneously. Wildhack isn’t blind to the realities of the situation. He knows that Syracuse has been besting the odds.

"Every coach knew going into the season across the country, not just here, how fluid the situation was, how fragile it was, and that there was frankly a significant probability that, regardless of the sport, you may not be in a position where you can play a full season.”

There have been no reports of any Orange players testing positive since the season began. They’ve been tested three-times a week for almost three weeks now. Should you feel compelled to bet on any aspect of Syracuse football this season, perhaps the safest bet is that they find a way to play a full 11-game schedule. And who knows…maybe one day there’ll even be fans there to see it.