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NESCAC cancels conference competition for fall season

The pandemic forces the New England Small College Athletic Association to cancel all league events, but members may compete out of conference.

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Colby College football coach Jack Cosgrove watched a drill during an Aug. 27, 2019 practice in Waterville. Michael G. Seamans/Morning Sentinel

The New England Small College Athletic Conference announced Friday it has canceled all fall conference competition because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Presidents of the 11 NESCAC schools — including Bates, Bowdoin and Colby — cited restrictions on travel and large on-campus gatherings in a joint statement.

“In keeping with public health guidance, each of our institutions has put in place physical distancing protocols, limits on travel on and off campus, and limits on the size of on-campus gatherings. Consistent with these policies, the NESCAC presidents have decided unanimously, though with great reluctance, that NESCAC conference competition for fall sports must be canceled for fall 2020,” the statement read.

NESCAC members, according to a Colby spokesperson, can still schedule nonconference events, although the list of those willing to explore some semblance of a fall season is shrinking.

“The NESCAC statement was just announcing that there’s going to be no conference matches or standings or championship,” Colby associate athletic director Danny Noyes said. “In terms of sports being played, that is still up to each individual institution.”

Shortly after the NESCAC announcement, Bates announced it has canceled all fall sports. NESCAC members Bowdoin, Amherst and Williams previously said they won’t be playing any fall sports.


“We’ve been working really hard for the last four months, pretty much since we canceled in the spring. … I don’t think that we imagined we’d be in this spot four months ago,” Bates Athletic Director Jason Fein said. “I think we just kind of ran out of time as far as waiting. … We were probably at this point putting off the inevitable. With the NESCAC making their decision, I think it made sense at this time to say are we realistically just putting (it) off, and are we going to give our student-athletes and our coaches another hit in a week or two weeks.”

The NESCAC’s decision is the latest in a series of big changes to collegiate athletics nationwide. On Wednesday, the Ivy League announced it had canceled all fall sports, and two of the NCAA’s Power Five conferences – the Big Ten and the Pac 12 – have decided that its members will play only conference competition. The Atlantic Coast Conference has suspended most of its sporting events until Sept. 1.

Noyes said Colby will consider playing nonconference games.

“Every school who hasn’t made an announcement that they’re canceling their sports, I believe … is still hopeful that they’ll be able to have a season,” he said. “… Everything is on the table until it’s taken off the table. Right now, everybody is still hopeful that we can maximize our experience.”

However, playing a fall season could be difficult, Colby football coach Jack Cosgrove said Thursday.

Colby College men’s soccer coach Ewan Seabrook watches an NCAA tournament selection show on Nov. 5, 2018. Morning Sentinel file photo

“I eat the positive pie all the time, but it doesn’t look good,” said Cosgrove, who came to the Waterville school after 23 years as the University of Maine head coach. “Throughout the NESCAC, there’s a lot of apprehension to returning to classrooms and fields this fall.”


Fein said Bates considered nonconference play, but logistics such as team travel were daunting hurdles.

“We kind of went in waves,” he said. “There were days where we thought ‘We’re going to get this done.’ And then there were days we thought ‘There’s no way we’re getting this done.’ … You started hearing the rumblings of the Ivy League’s going to do this, NESCAC’s going to do that. Then it starts becoming real, like ‘OK, we’re going to have to get to a decision here, sooner rather than later.’ ”

The NESCAC’s decision to cancel conference play hit teams hard, but wasn’t unexpected.

“It’s heartbreaking, but it’s not out of the blue. It’s something that we’ve kind of been tracking along the way and having a realistic approach to it and those open dialogues with our student-athletes,” Colby field hockey coach Kelly Terwilliger said. “Definitely heartbreaking, but something that we’ve been kind of planning for, I would say since the spring season with the cancellation of that.”

Terwilliger said she was optimistic early, but that her confidence in a normal fall season was shaken when Bowdoin announced on June 23 that it was canceling fall sports.

“The last month, watching how everything’s falling into place, it hasn’t been a complete surprise for us,” she said. “… Having those (conversations) with our athletes, ‘Do you want to take a gap year?’ ‘Do you want to defer a year?’ ‘What does your eligibility mean to you?’ Those have been a lot of the conversations in the last three weeks with our student-athletes.”


Terwilliger said the fleeting nature of a college career makes having a whole season compromised, if not canceled entirely, particularly difficult.

“The most disappointing (part) is how quick college is,” she said. “Four years is really quick.”

The NESCAC also announced Friday it will modify some conference rules to allow coaches and student-athletes more opportunities to practice.

“Athletics remains an important part of the experience for our students. Conference members will continue to work together to seek creative ways to provide meaningful athletic opportunities for our students during the upcoming academic year. To that end, the presidents have agreed to modify some NESCAC rules to enable coaches and students to engage in practice and training opportunities outside the traditional season, in accordance with the rules of each member institution and local health directives,” the statement read.

It was reported Thursday that NESCAC had applied for an NCAA waiver that would allow its members to play football in the spring.

An NCAA spokesperson said in an email Friday that the organization had no comment on the waiver.



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