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USM announces plan for modified, reduced winter sports schedule

Nixing overnight stays and reducing travel time, winter sports will feature a mix of conference and non-conference matchups.
Credit: Photo: Getty Images

GORHAM, Maine — After a fall season with no collegiate sports, the University of Southern Maine (USM) is making plans for a modified winter sports season. USM President Glenn Cummings on Tuesday announced winter sports programs’ intent to pursue an abbreviated and local competition schedule in 2021, that will feature a mix of conference and non-conference matchups later in the season that will involve reduced travel time and no overnight stays.

USM has seven winter sports in the NCAA Division III Little East Conference: men's and women's basketball, men's and women's ice hockey, men's and women's indoor track and field, and wrestling.

Cummings said the university’s goal is to develop a schedule for winter sports teams that is approximately 25 percent of what a traditional, regular-season schedule would look like. The six-contest schedule would include three home and three away matchups against programs from Maine and northern New England that are within about a two-hour drive.

USM Director of Athletics Al Bean said plans for reduced schedules against teams closer to home are being developed to provide USM’s student-athletes with intercollegiate competition while eliminating the need for overnight stays and limiting travel time during the pandemic.

“Our goal is to give our student-athletes an opportunity to continue to stay engaged with their teammates and continue to do something they love and that is central to their college experience,” Bean said. “We’re working hard to make it happen, but it’s all subject to change depending on the course of the pandemic.”

Bean said many details still need to be worked out, including finding teams that are willing to compete against USM during the proposed schedule and adhere to the same rigorous asymptomatic testing regime.

All USM students—including student-athletes—will undergo asymptomatic screening when they arrive back on campus in January following the semester break. Cummings says all USM winter sports student-athletes will be screened for the virus as part of the university’s regular and ongoing asymptomatic testing.

Winter sports team practices will be held for three weeks prior to the start of competition, from Monday, January 25, through the week of Monday, February 8.

“Each campus within the University of Maine System works to make the best decision for its student-athletes given its particular circumstances, including its conferences, facilities, opponents, and transportation logistics,” Cummings said in a release. “Everyone wants to compete, and everyone wants to be safe. Our decision to explore the possibility of competing in a modified and reduced schedule of winter sports competition reflects our interest in achieving both aims.”

Bean said the university’s plans for winter competition involve several health precautions such as requiring coaches and student-athletes to wear face-coverings during practices and while on the sidelines during competition. Referees and officials will be required to participate in on-site testing prior to home and away competition. The university said its plans will adhere to public health guidance established by civil authorities.

“This intent to play involves a tremendous amount of effort and managing countless logistics,” Bean said. “But our coaches are approaching this with an entrepreneurial spirit and working more closely than ever with each other and their colleagues at other schools to give our student-athletes the competition and camaraderie they long for.”

In a similar approach, Hockey East—which includes the University of Maine Black Bears—announced last week that all games will be conference-only and they too will have a reduced schedule.