Higher Rock Education - Economics Blog

Wednesday, August 04, 2021

COVID-19 Focus: How College Basketball Has Been Impacted By The Pandemic

Nearly every industry has been challenged by the COVID-19 pandemic in some way, whether it’s a suffering business struggling to stay afloat, a company that’s struggling to meet a booming demand, or a public service delivering public needs. By interviewing experts in their respective fields, Higher Rock Education examines the short-term and long-term impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic in a wide range of industries.

Rebecca Tillett is the head women’s basketball coach for Longwood University in Farmville, Va. The 2020-21 season was her third campaign with the Lancers, as she navigated her team through the pandemic. Tillett coached Longwood to a third-place finish in the Big South Conference and earned the program’s first-ever postseason bid of the school’s Division I era (2004-pres.) to the WBI Tournament. In the interview below, Tillett discusses the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic that she’s experienced in coaching and how it impacted her team’s season. 


Higher Rock Education: Like most businesses, athletics has had to deal with the impacts of COVID-19 in the last year. What have been some of the biggest pandemic-related hurdles that Longwood women’s basketball has had to overcome when dealing with the pandemic?

Rebecca Tillett: “We tried to stay joyful through the process because we had the opportunity to play. So many businesses and industries didn’t get to operate with any sense of normalcy.

“In terms of the challenges. Our biggest challenge was making sure that we were safe. Was it safe to proceed in this way? As the season progressed, all of us – administrators, coaches, players – gained a little more confidence in remaining safe and proceeding.

“The Big South Conference changed the schedule to where we’d play back-to-back games against the same team on consecutive nights. In college basketball, that’s not something we typically do. It forced us to tweak our training techniques. Our staff talked to other coaches – like baseball or softball – who have done that before since it’s part of their sport already.” 

HRE: How did you and your team adapt to CDC, NCAA and the Commonwealth of Virginia guidelines for social distancing and sanitation requirements when traveling on the road?

RT: “So much of our travel was impacted. The first thing was our meals. We didn’t eat out at any restaurant; everything was picked up and placed as a to-go order. In doing that, we lost out on an aspect of team building that builds camaraderie among our team. That had a big impact.

“The timing of interacting with my team. In some ways it was positive because we really only interacted with each other. We did miss out on events that are typically done with the team that involves other people.”

HRE: What was the most challenging aspect from a coaching and preparation standpoint between a) the uncertainty of whether or not there was going to be a season dating back to July 2020 and b) the possibility of games getting canceled due to positive tests a few hours prior to tip?

RT: “The toughest part of that challenge was adopting a certain mindset with your players and among the staff.

“We did have opponents who had to cancel or postpone. A lot of preparation goes into competing at this level. For us, our team did a good job of remaining positive and having a grateful heart. I think that helped our team keep going.”

HRE: How did you handle the conversation about vaccinations with your team?

RT: “Obviously, in our country, it’s become a polarized issue. I certainly wish it wasn’t, but the role that we took was to share information, encourage individuals to do their research and to make a decision. Obviously, in a group setting, we’re safer if everyone is vaccinated. Part of the college experience is learning who you are as a young adult and having to make those difficult choices.”

HRE: How did the pandemic change the way you recruited players?

RT: “Everything was virtual last year until this past June 1. It forced us to become creative and find ways to connect with families via Zoom. There were positives in adapting to the change. For example, one of our international recruits, because we’re now savvy with using Zoom and connecting people, we were able to meet with her family in Brazil while she was in the United States. I don’t know if it would’ve happened exactly like that if we didn’t have to change the way we had to connect with them. 

“Now, since we started going back to in-person visits earlier this summer, we’ve had to adapt again the other way. We no longer have to show them a video of campus because we can now take them on a campus tour. So, we’ve had to adapt on both ends of the pandemic.”  

HRE: What positive impacts did COVID-19 have on your team and the success it had?

RT: “When you’re striving to become a championship team and for all people who love sports – even across other industries – the people who are the best and achieve at a high level, they never get there without their share of adversity. What COVID-19 did was give every team some type of adversity and the biggest impact of our success last year had to do with how our leaders among our team and our staff decided to approach every single change related to COVID. That had a huge impact in terms of the jump of success. The outcome was what we were all hoping for.”

HRE: How do you believe COVID-19 will continue to impact college athletics from a coaching and recruiting standpoint moving forward?

RT: “From a coaching standpoint, I think there are several ways it’ll impact us long term. There are going to be financial realities that administrators and leaders at the university level are going to address. As a coach, it’ll be important to find ways to be creative. 

“From a recruiting perspective, I think we have all been reminded how important family is to us. That could impact the reach in terms of how far a recruit would be willing to be away from their family. That certainly won’t make us shy away from getting recruits from across the country, but I think it’s a worthwhile conversation with the recruit and their family. This past year has certainly made all of us look at our lives through a different lens.” 

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