NESCAC Announces the Cancellation of Fall Athletics

On the heels of the Ivy League’s decision to cancel fall athletics, the NESCAC announced its intent to do the same. The NESCAC presidents released a statement on the morning of July 10 confirming that the decision was “unanimous, though with great reluctance.”

The statement did not address when the intercollegiate competition will be allowed to resume, though it states that the circumstances are subject to change in accordance with federal, state, and local guidelines. 

The conference has modified rules in order to allow coaches and student-athletes to train and practice “outside the regular season.” This would allow winter sports to begin their practices on Oct. 15 instead of the usual Nov. 1. If all goes well, winter sports will plan to start the season on Nov. 13. As for the fall sports that were cancelled this year, the NESCAC is considering moving their seasons to the spring.

At the time of the statement’s release, Williams, Bowdoin, Wesleyan and Amherst had already cancelled their athletics (or in Bowdoin’s case, most of the in-person experience). Colby had taken a similar approach to Bates – seeking to continue with fall athletics in some capacity, such as competing only in-state.

The “business as usual” approach to college athletics has already proven to be problematic, as seen by the multiple outbreaks on NCAA football teams like UNC, Florida State, Oklahoma State, Auburn University, Texas Tech, and others. All have reported positive cases of COVID-19  on the teams who returned to school for preseason and voluntary workout programs. 

These outbreaks can be attributed to the lack of protocols put in place at these programs. The NCAA released “return-to-sport guidelines” on their website for schools to follow, which state that athletes need to adhere to local community health standards, wear face coverings where appropriate, conduct daily self-health checks and get testing and results within 72 hours of competition in high contact risk sports. 

Following the NESCAC’s decision, Athletic Director Jason Fein emailed all Bates student-athletes and described his thoughts, indicating that the Athletic Department did everything in its power to try and salvage some sort of season for its teams, but was unable to do so. 

Fein explained that the Athletic Department’s hopes for fall athletics came and went in “waves.” He added, “Since we left campus in March, the athletics staff has been working tirelessly to plan for numerous scenarios surrounding what athletics would look like this fall – from the best case options to the worst-case ones – all while following federal, state, institutional and NCAA guidelines.”

“Even with all of these considerations, challenges remained regarding the possibility of a truly safe return to competition this fall, and it was necessary for us to make this disappointing decision in order to protect the health and safety of our student-athletes, their families, and our broader campus community,” he said.

While Bates will allow fall athletic teams to meet and practice, many decisions are being left to coaches’ discretion to create a plan that follows the school’s COVID-19 guidelines. Cameron Riley ’23, a center on the Bates men’s basketball team, said, “I feel confident in my coaches’ plans but unsure about competition in the winter.” 

Josephine Stevens ’23 is a member of Bates women’s rowing team, whose fall season was recently cancelled. When asked about her feelings about the NESCAC’s decision to cancel fall sports, she said, “It’s a sad situation but it makes the most sense. Academics over athletics, always.”

The ability to hold team practices will be dependent on each sport’s individual risk. “Tennis is supposed to have practices every day which is good for us, but I can see how other teams may be upset when one team gets more practice time than another,” said Laura Littlefield ’23. Creating a safe practice environment for contact and team sports will have added difficulties in comparison to non-contact and individual sports. 

This also brings up the question of what the gyms and lifting rooms will look like this year. Fein briefly outlined plans for the fall in a July 10 sports announcement: “We plan for teams to be able to practice and gather this fall under the supervision of their coaches, as long as we observe physical distancing and comply with all safety standards in place across campus. We will also expand our outdoor fitness capabilities as well as online and virtual fitness programming for all members of the Bates community.” 

In terms of future plans and further developments for athletics, Fein stated that Bates “will continue to work with our counterparts in the NESCAC and the state of Maine as we look beyond the fall, and we will communicate those plans as soon as we can.”

The protocols and guidelines put in place will all be subject to change as the year goes on. Bates students will have to wait and see what the school will decide to do with athletics as the institution further develops and implements its plan over the next month before students return to school. All that the student body can do is have faith in the athletic department, faculty, and staff and understand that these are unprecedented times. In reality, no one is quite sure of what to do.