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The Colonial Athletic Association and America East — the conferences in which the University of Maine’s fall sports team belong — are going to suspend their fall sports seasons due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Both conferences also announced on Friday that they are hoping to play their fall sports in the spring and, in addition, the CAA is allowing its schools to pursue playing an independent schedule in the fall.
However, UMaine athletic director Ken Ralph said they won’t pursue football games in the fall because they aren’t doing it for the other fall sports teams.
Ralph and UMaine President Joan Ferrini-Mundy addressed the media in a Zoom conference and said the leagues made the right decision in suspending the fall season as the country continues to struggle to combat the coronavirus, which continues to spike in several states.
Ralph pointed out that the university has travel restrictions on its faculty and researchers.
UMaine head football coach Nick Charlton said “everyone is disappointed that we won’t be playing football in the fall, but safety is our top priority. We’re aligned with the university and the CAA’s decision and we really hope that the country can take a step in the right direction against this very serious disease.”
UMaine women’s soccer coach Scott Atherley agreed, saying it makes a lot of sense “when you consider the logistics and challenges associated with ensuring the safety and well-being of the student-athletes and the staff.”
UMaine is the northernmost school in its conferences and has an extensive travel schedule with the University of New Hampshire being the only opponent in the CAA or America East within 200 miles of Orono. Orono and Durham are 199 miles apart.
In a release, the CAA said it expressed a “strong commitment to exploring the possibility of conducting a football season during the spring and will continue to analyze this scenario as more information becomes available and conditions continue to evolve.”
Sean Tainsh, senior associate commissioner of America East, said in his release that the league is committed to developing plans “for a competitive structure in the second semester that will give fall student-athletes an opportunity to compete.”
Tainsh also indicated in the press release that the plan at the moment is to continue the winter sports on time as scheduled and that it would be premature to make any decisions on winter sports at this time.
Ralph acknowledged that there will be revenue loss but he also pointed out that they will see “significant savings on expenses.”
He said if they do play fall sports in the spring, it will likely be just conference games or games against teams within their region.
Fall sports teams can hold practice sessions but Ralph expects them to consist of “small groups” doing skill development activities.
Ralph is hoping improvements can be made to the coronavirus testing procedure which will help make things safer for the student-athletes.
He said it currently takes 24 to 72 hours to get the results of the test after having the nasal swab.
“We need something where we get the results a lot quicker and I know there are tests in development,” Ralph said.
He said moving the fall sports to the spring won’t be easy but they can accomplish it successfully.
“This is a different kind of year and we’re going to have to be creative to give our student-athletes a quality experience they deserve,” he said.
Ralph added that if it isn’t going to provide them with a quality experience or if it puts them in harm’s way, they won’t do it.
He noted that they have the staff and the facilities to pull it off in the spring although it will require additional work.
Field hockey and football have their own exclusive fields while soccer plays on the baseball field, but it just requires putting the movable goalposts on Mahaney Diamond, which has a FieldTurf surface.
Charlton said they will treat this fall campaign like the abbreviated spring portion of their program.
Charlton, Atherley and field hockey head coach Josette Babineau intend to embrace the spring season.
“This is our best option right now and we are going to move forward. It is the most realistic option considering where the country is at right now,” Charlton said.
He feels they will probably regionalize the schedule to reduce the travel.
“To have the opportunity to compete within this academic year is really a positive scenario,” said Atherley. “I’ll be very happy to play this spring. One of the things we teach in sports is you have to be adaptable. There are a lot of things you can’t control but you can control your attitude and outlook.”
Babineau said making a decision now will make it easier for the student-athletes to prepare for the school year since they now know their season has been pushed to the spring. They will be able to adjust their academic schedules.
The NCAA hasn’t decided whether to have postseason games in either the Football Bowl Subdivision or the Football Championship Subdivision.
The CAA is in the Football Championship Subdivision.
The University of Maine is one of 12 teams in the Colonial Athletic Association, which has schools from nine states.
The football team is the only one at UMaine that is in the Colonial Athletic Association.
UMaine’s other fall teams are in America East and the ice hockey teams are in Hockey East.
The Colonial Athletic Association and America East joined a growing list of conferences that have canceled fall sports along with the Ivy League, the Patriot League and NESCAC, which includes Maine colleges Colby, Bates and Bowdoin.
UMaine has four fall sports in America East: men’s and women’s cross country, women’s soccer and field hockey.
UMaine was scheduled to open its football season at Football Bowl Subdivision school Ball State in Muncie, Indiana, on Sept. 3.
In addition to eight conference games, including home games against Delaware, Villanova, Albany and New Hampshire, and road games against Richmond, Rhode Island, Football Championship Subdivision national runner-up James Madison and Stony Brook, UMaine had three nonconference games including the Ball State opener.
UMaine was going to host Football Championship Subdivision team Monmouth (New Jersey) and travel to face Football Bowl Subdivision team the University of Connecticut.
UMaine would have received a $400,000 guarantee from Ball State and a $280,500 payout from UConn.
Ralph said athletic administrators at Ball State and UConn couldn’t have been “nicer or more gracious” about the situation and he said he is looking to reschedule them in future years.