Maine men’s basketball coach Richard Barron speaks with his team before a game last season against Maine Maritime at the Portland Expo. Ariana van den Akker/Staff Photographer Buy this Photo

The University of Maine men’s basketball team has decided to end its season prematurely because of challenges related to COVID-19, the school announced Saturday.

The team had not been cleared for practice or competition since playing a weekend series at Vermont on Jan. 16-17. Six games had been postponed since then, including a pair of games scheduled for this weekend in Orono. The Black Bears have also canceled games scheduled for Feb. 20-21 against Binghamton.

The team deliberated for several days before reaching a decision on Friday, according to a press release from the school. They then informed university President Joan Ferrini-Mundy and Athletic Director Ken Ralph of their plans to opt out of the rest of the season.

“Our players’ safety and well-being will always come first,” Coach Richard Barron said in the release. “We simply could not safely put a team on the floor over the next few weeks or safely return players to playing after over six weeks off. Despite the challenges we’ve faced this year, we remain grateful for the opportunities we have here at UMaine and eagerly look forward to representing Black Bear Nation again soon.”

Challenges in dealing with COVID-19 have not been limited to the men’s basketball team at UMaine. Twice this winter, the university shut down all athletic competition for up to two weeks because of positive COVID-19 tests. The men’s hockey team has not played a game since Jan. 23.

Across the nation, hundreds of college basketball games have been postponed or canceled because of issues related to COVID-19. The women’s basketball teams at Duke, Virginia and Vermont are among programs that have opted to end their seasons early.

Maine’s men’s basketball team played just nine games, winning two. The first six games were canceled because of COVID-19 concerns, delaying the start of the season by nearly a month to Dec. 19.

“Their physical and mental well-being is what is most important,” Ralph said in the release. “With the constant interruptions to their season, it would be tough to prepare again for the rigors of Division I competition. Without knowing when we may be cleared to field a team again, we must also be fair to the other league members as they look to schedule the remainder of their seasons. I am proud of the way our team handled the challenges of this year and I know they will come back stronger next season.”

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