GORHAM, Maine — On Wednesday more decisions were made regarding fall sports at colleges and universities in New England. The New England Collegiate Conference (NECC) announced conference competition for the 2020 fall sports season is suspended due to ongoing concerns around COVID-19.
Thomas College in Waterville is part of the NECC which competes only in field hockey.
NECC said, "Assuming the spread of the virus is contained and safety can be assured, NECC play may resume during the spring semester."
Individual institutions, however, will have the discretion to seek alternate competitions outside of conference play, NECC said. Thomas College said they are exploring options for fall athletics teams to compete this fall and there will be no impact on pre-season training and return to campus plans.
The University of Southern Maine (USM) Athletics Department also announced Wednesday there would not be a fall sports season this year due to concerns related to the coronavirus. USM President Glenn Cummings and the University's senior leadership team fully support the decision, the Athletic Department said in the announcement.
USM Director of Athletics Al Bean said the decision is "heartbreaking" but one that he, coaches, and staff believe is right for the University given the circumstances.
"Reaching this decision and fully acknowledging the risks of competition during the pandemic have been gut-wrenching to say the least," Bean said. "We know that participation in intercollegiate athletics is a critical component of the educational experience for our student-athletes and our entire campus community. However, we care very deeply for our student-athletes and staff and must continue to make the overall health and safety of everyone involved with USM Athletics our top priority."
The Department says a myriad of scenarios were considered in hopes that a path forward could be possible, but said, "the risks associated with long-distance travel on buses and vans to Little East Conference destinations, as well as the complexities tied to competition itself presented too much."
They said ultimately they don't think they could adhere to health and safety guidance for student-athletes and coaching staff in these conditions.
"As difficult as it is to forgo the camaraderie and competition that our student-athletes have eagerly anticipated this fall, we need to do the right thing and step back for now," Bean said.
USM also explained that given the number of other schools canceling their sports seasons, the number of possible opponents in close proximity to USM was significantly diminished.
Last week, The New England Small College Athletic Conference (NESCAC) made the decision to cancel conference competition for fall sports.
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Bean said student athletes will have opportunities to engage with USM Athletics through skill development and strength-training sessions as well as academic support and career development programming designed to help all Huskies reach their full potential.
"We have been in touch with our student-athletes to process their shared disappointment and begin to find their way forward," Bean said. "Our student-athletes are capable of dealing with great adversity and bearing heavy loads in challenging conditions —especially when they pull together. Our goal is to remain Husky Strong through this unprecedented setback and to resume intercollegiate competition as soon as it is safe to do so."
The Department said they will continue to monitor the pandemic and health conditions closely and communicate with the NCAA, conference organizations, and local opponents to see what may be possible for USM teams and student-athletes in the new year.
USM says they will also take steps to maintain seasons of eligibility for all student-athletes in keeping with NCAA policies.
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