COVID-19 Pandemic Stalls Bobcats’ Early DII Success

Apr 30, 2020 4:00 PM

By Chris Hildreth ’20

Bobcat student-athletes were expecting exciting challenges and some triumphs when Frostburg State entered a new era of athletics with its move into NCAA Division II beginning in the fall 2019 season. None expected to face an opponent like COVID-19, which eliminated nearly two months of spring competition after the NCAA suspended play after March 12.

“We put in so much hard work on the field and in the weight room as well, but the worst part is not being able to play baseball at Frostburg with my teammates,” said senior baseball player Ryan Roell, echoing the sentiments of athletes everywhere.

The year started out on a hopeful note. In July of 2019, FSU was accepted into the Mountain East Conference in Division II. This opened the door for new opportunities in athletics at the University and gives FSU the chance to go from a popular local entity to a regional powerhouse. 

According to Troy Dell, director of Athletics at FSU, the move to Division II came as the Capital Athletic Conference, which FSU played in since 2009, was beginning to dissolve.

The CAC, which at one point had 10 teams, including historic FSU rival Salisbury University, is seeing numerous teams depart, which will eventually leave the CAC with just three members headed into the fall of 2021. Dell says FSU saw an opportunity not only to move on but to elevate its standing on a national scale.

The move to Division II had some early positive impacts. The increased level of competition brought more exposure. In the first six months, FSU athletics were seen by a wider audience than ever before. Collaborations with Pinewood Sports and WDZN radio allowed for live radio broadcasts of football and basketball games, as well as televised games, like football’s Oct. 17 game versus University of Charleston (W.Va.).

This game was featured on MASN, the channel that shows Orioles and Nationals baseball games throughout the mid-Atlantic region. Many alumni hosted watch parties for FSU’s first-ever game to be broadcast live on television. The team’s 42-7 win that night made it an all-around victory for current and former Bobcats.

The game against Charleston (W.Va.) was just one win in a series of big wins for the Bobcats during the 2019 season. The team finished the year with a dominant 8-3 record that far exceeded the expectations of pundits coming into the year. Frostburg was picked to finish ninth in the conference in a preseason poll but ended as the third-best team in the Mountain East Conference, winning five games by 10 or more points.  

FSU athletes across all sports have taken it upon themselves to raise their level of play to match that of Division II.

“The jump has been good and humbling,” said senior basketball player Daniel Alexander about how current FSU athletes have adjusted to the increased competition. “This division is high level for basketball, and I love how this level of competition brings the best out of us. At times it is a struggle, but there’s always beauty in the struggle, and I feel like our team knows what we have to do in order to get to where we want to be.”

The women’s lacrosse team had already been facing nationally ranked teams in their DIII opponents, so junior Stephanie King felt well-prepared for the jump to DII.

“When we headed into this season, we were in a new conference of teams we knew would be a great competition for us every time we stepped out on the field,” she said. “The level of play was still just as fast and exciting.”

Virus-Interrupted Season

Unfortunately, spring sports weren’t afforded the same opportunity to prove they belong in the same class as other Division II competition. Seasons for all spring sports were officially cancelled on March 12 because of the rapid spread of COVID-19.

“FSU was monitoring the situation, at which time the NCAA announced the cancellation of winter and spring championships,” Dell said. “For FSU, the decision was made as part of a Mountain East Conference Executive Board decision to suspend the spring season a few hours after the championships were cancelled. Eventually the word suspension became cancelled.”

“It moved pretty fast,” Dell said

The sudden announcement the season would be cancelled resulted in the dismay of spring athletes across campus at FSU. Roell explained his astonishment once the ruling came down.

“Our initial reaction was we were shocked,” he said. “Being a senior it hit us much harder. We have been playing this game a long time and this wasn’t the way we wanted to go out on.”

No team may have felt the impact of the cancellation more than the FSU men’s lacrosse team. The team featured 12 seniors and was 5-0 when their season abruptly ended. The team was playing so well they received votes to be in the top 20 of the USILA weekly poll. The team was featured on the #SeniorNight segment of SportsCenter that gives recognition to high school and college seniors that had their seasons ended by the COVID-19 pandemic. Fortunately, seniors across all spring sports will have a chance at redemption.

“The NCAA has provided relief for seniors to get another year at all levels for spring sports,” Dell said. “Underclassmen will have their red-shirt year to aid them.”

This will give FSU teams like men’s lacrosse the opportunity to show that last season’s hot start wasn’t a fluke and that FSU belongs in Division II athletics.

Benefits of Going DII

When competition is able to begin again, the anticipated benefits for the DII move can come back into focus, benefits like student recruitment, opportunities for students to earn athletic scholarships and a travel schedule that is friendlier to student-athletes.

Dell said increasing the enrollment of student athletes was a another factor in transitioning to Division II. FSU is one of only two Division II schools in the state of Maryland.

Despite its relatively small size, Maryland has among the highest percentage of athletes recruited by Division I schools in the country. According to, Maryland has the highest percentage of boys’ and girls’ basketball players recruited by Division I schools, as well as leads the nation in boys’ soccer and places top five nationally in football and men’s track.

Moving to Division II makes FSU more attractive to a pool of some of the best athletes in the country who are looking to play respectable competition and possibly receive athletics scholarships that weren’t possible in Division III, while still being able to stay in-state.

For student-athletes, being part of the MEC means easier away travel compared to playing in the CAC, which were often a five-hour drive away, compared to the average of two hours in the MEC. This allows athletes to spend less time missing classes due to travel and lightens the already heavy time commitment that student-athletes have.

Current student Rylee Learn worked closely with the move to Division II, both as a member of the women’s soccer team and vice president of Community Engagement in the Student-Athlete Advisory Committee. She admits she was skeptical about the move at first, but she has been encouraged by what she’s seen over the last few months.

“Before the move, I wasn't sure how the transition would impact our school,” she said. “I saw both positives and negatives for the move. After going through it …, I would say it’s been a positive impact. From an athletic standpoint, it will give most teams more competition and spread the Frostburg name out to more places.”

Lacrosse team member King was more confident going in.

“I was very confident in Frostburg’s ability to complete at the DII level because of the success many of our programs have had in the past,” she said. “In the past three years I have seen all of the programs grow and show that they can compete more and more every day.”

Despite the challenges of the first year, the consensus seems to be that the move to DII is going well. However, there is still much more work to do. According to Dell, the biggest challenge for FSU is sustainability.

FSU must go through three years of provisional status before it can be considered a true member of Division II, so work from the campus community, as well as support of alumni, donors and the region is needed to ensure FSU finds a good home in Division II. The current success is only the tip of the iceberg for what FSU can become in the future.

“It’s not just about getting through the NCAA Division II membership process. It is about building a program that embraces the NCAA DII ideals while producing teams that can win at that level simultaneously,” Dell said.