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Aaron Smith said he almost cried when he heard the news. Dyson Roberts said he actually did come to tears.
What brought the two to such an emotional state was when they found out on Thursday that the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference was canceling its fall sports schedule due to the coronavirus pandemic. That means the two incoming freshmen on the South Carolina State football team will not be playing the sport they love over the next few months.
"I cried honestly," said Roberts, the former Sumter High School placekicker and punter. "I was so disappointed. It hurts so much. When football is what you love, and it's taken away from you, it just really hurts."
"I had wanted to cry a little bit," said Smith, the former Manning High star athlete who is to play linebacker for the Bulldogs. "I came to the realization that this was the right move. I feel like it's not a bad decision. It's safety first."
The MEAC became the third Football Championship Subdivision conference to say it will not have a fall sports season. The MEAC, comprising 11 historically black colleges and universities, joined the Ivy League and the Patriot League in shutting down all fall sports. The MEAC left the door open of making them up in the spring semester if possible.
"Obviously this is an arduous decision because everyone wants to have a fall season for student-athletes, fans and others," MEAC Commissioner Dennis Thomas said. "Part of our responsibility is to ensure the mental and physical health and safety of our student-athletes, coaches, and staff is paramount. It is imperative that everyone recognize that is our first and foremost responsibility."
The announcement was made in a ZOOM meeting in which all of the fall sports athletes in the MEAC were asked to be watching, according to Smith.
Roberts said it is painful to possibly not have the season because this was to be a realization of a dream.
"I mean I was ready to play college football; it's something I've always dreamed of," said Roberts, who was supposed to have reported to the Orangeburg campus last Friday for football workouts but had it delayed because of the spike in positive coronavirus tests. "I won't be able to play my first season as a freshman."
Both Roberts and Smith are still in flux as to if they'll even be on campus in the next few weeks.
"We don't know if we're going to be doing classes virtually," Smith said. "I'm still going to be working out to keep myself in shape, but we've got to find out if we're going to be doing online classes or if we will be on campus."
Neither Smith nor Roberts said nothing has been said if student-athletes would be involved in workouts should S.C. State have in-person classes. Also, nothing has been decided about eligibility for student-athletes should fall sports not be played in the spring.
"Because our student-athletes and coaches make extraordinary contributions to our entire campus and Orangeburg community, this is an extremely heartbreaking decision," S.C. State Director of Athletics Stacy Danley said in a story in The Times And Democrat of Orangeburg. "However, I support the decision because I know that it is the right call based on the information available to us today regarding the continued spread of the virus."
The MEAC is the third HBCU conference to cancel fall sports. The Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Conference, of which Benedict College in Columbia is a member, and the Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association recently announced the same. Both are NCAA Division II conferences.
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