Not even the craziest of baseball games Jason Fischer has coached had the swing of emotions he and his team endured in a 48-hour span this past week.
Fischer was a bit preoccupied as his St. Cloud Technical and Community College baseball team began a doubleheader this past Tuesday. The two important games against a division opponent should have been the top priority, but a piece of news Fischer received just before the first game weighed on his mind.
The Cyclones’ head coach had to figure out a way to tell his players that their dream of playing in the College World Series had just been taken away from them.
Earlier that day, the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities (MnSCU) system announced that its schools would not be able to travel to North Carolina for athletics. This news came one month after Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton prohibited employees in all state agencies from nonessential travel to the state after North Carolina enacted a law that requires transgender people to use restrooms and locker rooms that match their gender at birth, not the gender with which they identify.
Member schools of MnSCU system fell under that umbrella, and on Tuesday MnSCU determined that baseball trips were considered nonessential.
“My focus is caught between, ‘How am I going to let my guys know,’ versus, ‘We’ve got to play two games and we’ve got to win both of these games,’” Fischer said. “I’m going through the roller coaster of emotions that day.”
It all took a turn for the better on Thursday when MnSCU released a statement saying the travel ban had been lifted. The statement cited the U.S. Justice Department’s actions against North Carolina, in which the department argued that the law in question (House Bill 2) violates the U.S. Civil Rights Act. The MnSCU statement sent out Thursday evening added that “the presidents of Minnesota State Colleges and Universities are confident that the deplorable discrimination embedded in North Carolina’s legislation is being addressed.”
Having the Justice Department step in and take action was enough for MnSCU to alter its original decision and lift the travel ban, allowing many of its baseball programs to breathe a sigh of relief and get back to working towards their ultimate goal.
“I think when you’re dealing with very complex issues like this that those with the most influence over the situation have the most opportunity to exact an outcome,” said Kevin Buisman, director of athletics at Minnesota State University. “In this case, it’s probably a certainty that the Justice Department wields a little more clout than any one of our Division II baseball programs. We certainly supported the governor and the MnSCU office.”
Fischer’s players were understandably disappointed on Tuesday night when their coach broke the news to them after they swept their doubleheader. St. Cloud Tech is 27-6 overall and ranked eighth in the latest National Junior College Athletic Association Division III poll, one spot behind fellow MnSCU school Century College. The NJCAA’s Division III World Series is held this year in Kinston, N.C., beginning May 28.
Last Tuesday’s news meant other MnSCU schools also had their baseball dreams temporarily dashed. Such was the case for Minnesota State University, which joins No. 1 St. Cloud State and No. 2 Minnesota Duluth as MnSCU schools ranked among the top six Division II teams in the Central region. The town of Cary, N.C., has played host to the NCAA Division II College World Series the last seven years and is again hosting in 2016.
The Minnesota State Mavericks are very familiar with Cary, having been there for the Division II College World Series four times since 2010. Head coach Matt Magers was in a similar predicament as Fischer when it came to figuring out how to break the news to his team.
“It was certainly disappointing right away, that ultimate goal that our student-athletes have been working for will be something that won’t be possible if given the opportunity to go back there,” Magers said before the travel ban was lifted Thursday. “Going into the beginning of the year, as coaches we sit down and kind of look at our weaknesses and what’s going to prevent us from going to Cary. We try to address those issues, and this [travel ban] was certainly one of them that we didn’t think about or address at the beginning of the year.”
Though coaches and administrators from all schools involved remained hopeful that MnSCU would change its stance on the travel ban, there was a period of uncertainty and confusion for two days. Coaches received questions from players, parents and fans about what it all meant—and whether there was a chance things could change. A common theme preached by the coaches of those schools was to only worry about things they could control on the baseball field. They all still had several games remaining on their respective schedules and wanted to finish the year strong, with or without a trip to the College World Series.
Even now that the ban is lifted, a trip to North Carolina isn’t guaranteed for any of the MnSCU schools. For any that do earn a spot in this year’s College World Series, the reward might be a bit more appreciated knowing it could have easily been taken away.
“Every trip to Cary that we’ve been there has meant a lot,” Magers said. “But this one probably would mean a little bit more.”