Greg Paulus has made communication a priority for the Niagara men’s basketball team during a period of indefinite inactivity.
The Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference canceled its tournament on March 12 due to novel coronavirus outbreak concerns, and players on the Purple Eagles’ roster have since scattered across the country.
Paulus, Niagara's first-year coach, says he has been in touch with each of his players for the past week, whether it’s been through text messages, phone calls or FaceTime.
“Everybody got home, and got home safely,” Paulus said Wednesday. “We have to communicate with them every day or every couple days to make sure they’re in a good place, and we have to continue to build relationships with them and with their families. Right now, I think the big thing is communication.”
Like many coaches across the country, Paulus is in a holding pattern after the college basketball season came to a stop last week with the cancellation of all Division I conference basketball tournaments. The NCAA also canceled all winter championships and spring competition.
The problem that Paulus and many other college coaches face is that there is no blueprint for what to do during an indefinite shutdown of college sports, particularly during a public health crisis. The uncertainty is impacting him and other coaches, who have never been through a shutdown of this magnitude.
“Everybody is in a period where they are still trying to work through this,” Paulus said. “I’ve spoken with coaching friends and mentors, and the uncertainty of this is one of the biggest challenges. Not knowing when that start-up date will happen, that’s one of the things we’ve talked about.
“But the most important thing we talked about, when the decision was made (to cancel the season), the safety of the players, staff and families.”
Niagara (12-20) prepared to play Rider in a MAAC quarterfinal March 12 in Atlantic City, N.J. Instead, the MAAC canceled the tournament shortly after 2 p.m. that day, between its women’s tournament games, and about five hours before Niagara was scheduled to play.
“It happened very quickly, from the time we met with the team and we knew who we were playing,” Paulus said.
Paulus said that as news of the cancellations of other conference tournaments broke, his responsibility was to relay accurate information to his staff and to his players.
“One thing I wanted to communicate was what I knew and when I knew it,” Paulus said. “There was so much out there going on with the news and with social media. There’s so much uncertainty, but I wanted to make sure I could communicate the messages that I could get from my athletic director, from our school president, from the conference and from the conference commissioner.”
That communication continues, even as Paulus works at a distance from his players. He addressed his players last Thursday in New Jersey at the team hotel, and players either left with family to return home, or took the bus back to Lewiston.
“I told the team, ‘I don’t know if I’m ready to have this meeting yet, because I thought we still had some basketball in us,’” Paulus said. “We were ready to play in a quarterfinal game. You never know exactly how it was going to turn out, but in that meeting, I told them the positives for the program and for the team.”
Paulus is working between Niagara’s campus and working remotely, but Niagara is currently on spring break, which was extended to March 28. Undergraduate classes are scheduled to resume March 30, but in a letter to the Niagara campus community posted Tuesday on the school's website, university president James J. Maher said all university courses will be offered remotely when the academic calendar resumes.
Also, all Niagara residence halls and apartments will be closed until April 13. Students who cannot leave campus and are granted an exemption may remain on campus.
“We’re looking to plan in this time,” Paulus said. “There’s other aspects we can work on, as we continue to plan for what happens next. You’re preparing, but you don’t know when that timeline will be. We’re trying to think ahead and plan, but you don’t know what those timelines will be.”