To keep the teams as safe as possible, America East administrators and athletic directors devised basketball schedules that will feature weekend series with two games at one site.
In previous years, teams played a midweek game and one game on the weekend against two different opponents.
The addition of the New Jersey Institute of Technology this season gives America East 10 teams, so five teams will play eight home games and 10 road games and the other five will play 10 and 8, respectively.
The University of Maine, the two-time defending women’s champion, in March reached the conference title game against Stony Brook only to have the season canceled by the coronavirus. The Black Bears will be the beneficiaries of 10 home games while the men will play eight at home.
UMaine will play the same school on the same weekends, but at opposing venues, with one exception. The UMaine women will host UMass Lowell on Feb. 13 and 14, 2021, but the UMaine men visit UMass Lowell Feb. 18-19, a weekend when there won’t be any women’s games.
“We haven’t been cleared to play yet but it is nice to see a schedule on paper,” said Amy Vachon, head coach of the UMaine women’s team.
UMaine President Joan Ferrini-Mundy hasn’t cleared UMaine teams for outside competition and the state is experiencing a sharp rise in COVID-19 cases recently.
The Black Bears open the league schedule Dec. 19-20 against Hartford, the women at home and the men on the road.
The women will also host NJIT (Jan. 9-10), Vermont (Jan. 16-17), the University of Maryland, Baltimore County (Jan. 30-31) and UMass Lowell (Feb. 13-14) and travel to New Hampshire (Jan. 2-3), Binghamton (Jan. 23-24), Albany (Feb. 6-7) and Stony Brook (Feb. 27-28).
After the Hartford openers, the men entertain UNH (Jan. 2-3), Binghamton (Jan. 23-24), Albany (Feb. 6-7) and Stony Brook (Feb. 27-28). Road series will include Jan. 9-10 at NJIT, Vermont (Jan. 16-17), UMBC (Jan. 30-31) and UMass Lowell (Feb. 18-19).
Vachon said playing games on consecutive nights on a regular basis is something new with the exception of tournaments.
“At this point, it doesn’t matter to us. Just being on the court is something the girls are really looking forward to,” Vachon said. “We’ll figure out adjustments as the season goes on.”
She said back-to-back games could become a trend in the future.
UMaine men’s coach Richard Barron and Vachon embrace the addition of NJIT as the league’s 10th team.
“It brings some stability to our league. It gives us an even number of teams and allows us to do things, scheduling-wise. We’ll have travel partners,” Barron said.
It will enable all America East teams to play league games the same weekends.
UMaine plays its basketball home games at the seven-year-old Cross Insurance Center in Bangor. However, due to the COVD-19 pandemic and the strict guidelines, including indoor gathering limits now again reduced to 50 people, it is possible the Black Bears could wind up playing at least some regular-season games this season on campus in Memorial Gym.
Scheduling conflicts with the CIC involving professional bull riding have forced the UMaine women to play America East semifinal games at “The Pit” each of the last two seasons.
“All options are on the table,” Vachon said of the possibility of playing on campus.
“Nothing has been decided yet,” Vachon added.
Both teams practice in Memorial Gym.
“We will play wherever we need to play. We’re more interested on whether or not we get to play than where we play,” said Barron, who is sure UMaine will play in whatever is deemed the safest environment.
Vachon hopes the Black Bears also will be cleared to play four non-conference games. They include Nov. 28-29 in Connecticut at the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame Women’s Challenge against Mississippi State and either Connecticut or Quinnipiac and Dec. 10-11 at Providence College and the University of Rhode Island.