The football team and other fall sports programs at the University of Maine will have to wait until at least next spring to compete again. The school’s primary conference, America East, emphasized Friday that it is postponing, not canceling, the fall season – with an eye on having those sports played instead in spring 2021. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

In a matter of hours on Friday, dozens of colleges across the Northeast – including four in Maine – became the latest NCAA schools to have their fall sports seasons called off because of the coronavirus outbreak.

The University of Maine announced it would not play any fall sports shortly after its primary conference, America East, announced its decision to halt competition, and its football conference, the Colonial Athletic Association, said it would not have a conference schedule. UMaine, a Division I school, competes in men’s and women’s cross country, women’s soccer, field hockey and football during the fall.

Also on Friday, Division III programs at the University of New England, Maine Maritime Academy and Husson University halted their athletic programs for the entire fall semester. They join Bowdoin College, Bates College and the University of Southern Maine, D-III schools that had earlier announced their decisions not to compete this fall.

“There’s going to be people that don’t like this decision, but just because they don’t like it doesn’t mean it isn’t the right decision,” said UMaine Athletic Director Ken Ralph.

UMaine President Joan Ferrini-Mundy said she and other university presidents in both the America East and the CAA held multiple, “very, very thoughtful discussions that looked at data and were science driven and mindful of interstate travel. The presidents were looking to reconcile on-campus needs with having some kind of a season, and it became progressively clearer there was no way to manage this.”

Ralph and Ferrini-Mundy confirmed in a Zoom conference call with media that all athletic scholarships at Maine will be honored. Athletes were informed of the school’s decision in a conference call prior to its announcement early Friday afternoon.

America East emphasized that it is not canceling fall sports, but postponing them. In a press release, the league said it is committed to developing plans for fall teams to compete next spring. The CAA also “expressed a strong commitment to exploring the possibility of conducting a football season during the Spring of 2021,” in a press release.

UNE and Maine Maritime will shut down athletics until at least Jan. 1, per rulings by their athletic conferences.

“I know that this is a heartbreaking decision, not only for our athletes but also for our coaches and the UNE Community,” said UNE Athletics Director Heather Davis in a press release. “But ultimately, the health and safety of our student athletes has to remain our top priority, and participating in competition in the midst of this pandemic puts our athletes at too great a risk.”

On Thursday, the NCAA outlined a daunting series of recommendations on how to conduct testing, contact tracing and quarantine procedures if institutions were to compete in high-contact risk sports, which include fall sports like football, soccer and field hockey.

“This really got clarified by the last batch of NCAA guidelines,” Ralph said. He said the impact of the regulations would have made it very difficult for athletes to enjoy their experience. Further, as the only Division I program in Maine, the Black Bears must travel out of state to create a Division I schedule.

“It’s so strict that if one of our athletes were to come in close contact with someone on campus (with COVID), it would be an automatic 14-day quarantine,” Ralph said. “It became untenable.”

The CAA Football Conference is leaving the door open for any of its 12-member schools to play an independent schedule this fall. James Madison University, which has advanced to three of the last four Football Championship Subdivision national championship games, is intending to play an independent schedule.

Ralph said the four America East schools that play football in the CAA – Maine, New Hampshire, Albany and Stony Brook – were long in agreement that if America East shut down, they would not play football in the fall.

“I don’t see how we could let football participate without letting the other sports. It doesn’t make sense,” Ralph said.

Marty Scarano, the athletic director at New Hampshire, confirmed that the four America East schools worked closely together and were in agreement on their football decision.

“I can only speak on behalf of UNH, but we would not put one subset of athletes in a different situation, and in this case we would not put one set in a more precarious situation in regards to their health and safety. All along I knew this was an all-or-nothing proposition,” Scarano said.

UNH, like Maine, is postponing all fall sports.

UMaine football coach Nick Charlton said he is beginning a plan for a spring season. It will start, he hopes, with running a fall practice schedule that would simulate football’s normal spring sessions, which were among the early casualties of the pandemic.

“Right now we’re really looking to take that spring football schedule and replicate it in the fall, and at the end of the day, that gives guys a light at the end of the tunnel because it says we’re preparing to play,” Charlton said.

Incoming freshman Jevin Smith, a defensive lineman from Winthrop, is ready to get to work.

“I’m really bummed. I’m not going to lie,” Smith said of Friday’s announcement. “Ever since coronavirus happened, I’ve been working out hard, twice a day for three months. The way I look at it, I’ve just got to work out harder.”

James Olivier, who won a national title in the 800 meters at the USA Track and Field Under-20 championships in 2019, was looking forward to his junior season on the UMaine cross country team this fall.

Olivier said he was shocked when the spring track season was canceled, but acknowledged being more “numb” to decisions like Friday’s.

“It’s more of an acceptable emotion,” the Augusta native said. “A lot of the guys are planning on moving up here and … training as if we’re going to have a season, just with the outlook that we’re getting better for the prospect of a later date.”

America East said it intends to start the winter sports season on time but cautioned, “it would be premature to make any decisions on winter sports, including basketball, at this time.”

– Central Maine Newspapers staff writers Drew Bonifant and Travis Lazarczyk contributed to this story.


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.