The college sports schedule came to a sudden end Thursday with the NCAA’s announcement that it was canceling not only March Madness but “all remaining winter and spring NCAA championships” because of concerns over coronavirus.

That brought to an end the most promising University of Maine hockey season in Red Gendron’s seven years as head coach.

It also ended Bowdoin College’s bid to reach the NCAA Division III women’s basketball championship game for a third consecutive year. Bowdoin was to host a Division III sectional round this weekend in Brunswick.

The UMaine women’s basketball team had its season end earlier in the day when America East canceled its championship game at Stony Brook University in New York, scheduled for Friday. Stony Brook was awarded the league’s automatic NCAA tournament bid, one that had no value hours later when the NCAA called off the tournament.

On Thursday night, the University of Southern Maine announced all of its spring sports are canceled.

Hockey East had also canceled its tournament earlier Thursday. Maine, which finished with an 18-11-5 record, was to have started a best-of-three quarterfinal series with Connecticut on Friday night. The Black Bears rank 15th in the PairWise standings, which are used to determine NCAA tournament entries.

It would have been Maine’s first NCAA tournament appearance since 2012.

Still, Maine Athletic Director Ken Ralph supported the NCAA’s decision to cancel the tournaments because of the COVID-19 outbreak.

“I think it is the most responsible decision to make given we’re in a public health crisis,” he said Thursday afternoon. “There are things more important than sports and we’ve got to get our priorities right.”

The NCAA’s decision to cancel spring sports championships was somewhat surprising, but not entirely unexpected.

“I think everybody thought this could be a possibility,” said Ralph. “This is quite the proactive stance the NCAA has taken, looking a long way out.”

Ralph had yet to meet with the UMaine spring athletes shortly after the news broke. But earlier he had said the university needed to take care of its student-athletes. UMaine is shifting to remote learning when classes resume from spring break on March 23.

“We’ve got to help them work through this and help them complete their academic work,” he said. “We’ve got to help them in their academic pursuits and keep them healthy.”

America East’s decision to cancel its basketball championship – Vermont was hosting Hartford in the men’s title game, scheduled for Saturday – was disappointing for the Maine women’s team, which fought through numerous injuries to reach the title game for the fifth consecutive year.

“The decision was made in consultation with the conference’s leadership in light of the recent developments regarding the spread of the COVID-19 virus. This is a proactive decision to protect the health, safety and well-being of our student-athletes, coaches, staff and everyone on our campuses,” the conference announced in a news release.

Maine Coach Amy Vachon agreed.

“We fully support the decision made by league officials to cancel the event,” she said in a statement. “The focus on public health, including the health and safety of our staff and student-athletes, is the No. 1 priority at this time.”

Ralph said he has received nothing but support from fans and family members since the decisions were made. “People have been incredibly understanding,” he said. “We’ve had more notes of support than we expected, including some from families who are incredibly grateful these decisions were made.”

Ralph said the concern over the COVID-19 virus became very real Wednesday night when the NBA suspended its season.

“It really raised a lot of eyebrows,” he said. “We’re not in this alone, it’s a national thing. Everybody is experiencing it. There was a whole range of emotions and we’ve got to take care of our student-athletes and our coaches.”


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