As Carleton administrators mull over the choice to opt in or out of a MIAC spring sports season, Men’s Track and Field Coach Dave Ricks believes that spring athletes can, and deserve to, return to play.
“Hopefully, our administration will show that they see the value of intercollegiate athletics by supporting athletic competition this spring,” said Ricks. “I know that every athlete and team works hard and deserves this opportunity.”
Ricks, who is Carleton’s head coach for both men’s cross country and men’s track, is not under the impression that holding the season will be easy. The MIAC winter season that Carleton opted out of had over 80 postponements.
“I think that the cancellations of winter games showed that the MIAC put the safety of our campus communities ahead of competition when it was appropriate,” said Ricks.
Nevertheless, Ricks points out that there are key differences between spring and winter sports.
“I think that winter sports showed us exactly what we expected, that basketball and hockey are in the highest risk category,” said Ricks. “Four sports competed this winter; basketball (high risk), hockey (high risk), swim and dive (intermediate risk) and indoor track (intermediate risk). All of the postponements and cancellations were with the high risk sports.”
“All of the traditional Spring sports are listed in either the ‘low’ or ‘intermediate’ risk level by the NCAA and Minnesota Department of Health,” added Ricks, who drew on data from a Japanese study published by Nishura et. al. “The available studies show that outdoor events have 18.7 times less risk of transmission than indoor events.” The referenced study has not yet been peer-reviewed.
Ricks is particularly hopeful about the shift outdoors to more naturally distanced, low-risk sports, because intermediate-risk sports like indoor track already fared well this winter.
“Eight MIAC schools have successfully competed in indoor track with no postponements and no known cases of transmission, so I think that this shows that we can compete safely,” explained Ricks.
“I believe that track and field, golf, tennis, and baseball/softball can all compete safely. How can anyone logically conclude that a center fielder in either baseball or softball poses a safety concern while standing out in the middle of the field alone? I do not believe that the competition is a problem. There are other things to address, but they are all within our control.”
The pandemic has already cost Ricks’ distance runners one cross country, one outdoor track, and one indoor track season. This is especially frustrating given the rash of success Ricks’ teams have had behind the likes of star runners Lucas Mueller ’21 and Matt Wilkinson ’21.
“Our distance runners have now missed three consecutive seasons, and that’s difficult for a cross country team that was among the top 5 in the country. We have now had four National Championships already cancelled. If those competitions would have happened, I believe that Matt and Lucas would have shown that they were the top 2 distance runners of all-time at Carleton, and would have racked up a number of individual National Championships.”
With so many opportunities already snatched away, Ricks wants to give his runners and all student-athletes, particularly seniors, one last chance to compete in the sports they’ve trained almost their entire lives for.
Ricks is extremely proud of Carleton’s student-athletes and the student body as a whole for keeping campus safe this year, citing last week’s surveillance testing, which yielded zero positive COVID-19 tests. Out of seven rounds of random weekly surveillance testing this Winter Term, with 650 tests administered per round, four rounds failed to return a single positive test—a remarkable indicator of just how seriously Carleton students have taken health guidelines this winter.
“As a liberal arts institution who prides itself in fostering an environment of creative problem-solving, it seems to me that our main barrier is not in finding solutions, but in having the will to address the issues at hand. If there’s a will, there’s a way. Do we have the will?”
Correction: March 9, 2021 — This article has been updated to reflect the fact that Dave Ricks coaches only men’s cross country / track. The original version erroneously implied that he coaches both the men’s and women’s programs. The women’s programs are coached by Donna Ricks.