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Loyola Maryland disappointed but not surprised by Patriot League’s decision to cancel fall sports competitions

At 11:15 a.m. Monday, Loyola Maryland athletic director Donna M. Woodruff met almost 300 coaches and student-athletes from the school’s fall sports to inform them of the Patriot League’s decision to cancel all fall sports competitions for the 2020 season. The feedback was what she anticipated.

“The reaction was obviously a combination of disappointment, but with, I think, not one of surprise,” she said about two hours after that online meeting. “I had to go through this with our coaches and student-athletes in the spring, and not that it came out of nowhere, but we did not have four months of already being in this uncertainty. So I think as everybody’s been watching what’s been going on across the country, there at least was a little more of, ‘OK, I’m not surprised. I’m disappointed, but not surprised.’”

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The conference announced Monday morning that its member schools will not participate in championship or non-championship contests in fall sports such as soccer, field hockey, volleyball and cross country.

That decision was made by the Patriot League Council of Presidents — which met Friday — in recognition of how the coronavirus pandemic continues to affect campuses and communities. As of early Monday afternoon, the United States led the world in reported positive cases with 3,332,685 and reported deaths with 135,379, according to the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center.

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The conference’s announcement does not apply to its two service academy members, Navy and Army West Point, which use athletics to fulfill the physical portion of the mission of developing future officers.

But the Greyhounds are directly affected. Men’s and women’s soccer, volleyball and cross country – four sports with championships in the fall – will be sidelined. Men’s and women’s lacrosse, men’s and women’s tennis, men’s and women’s rowing, men’s golf have championships in the spring, but will not be permitted to participate in fall competitions.

Woodruff said COVID-19 outbreaks among players from the NBA, NHL and MLB and football workouts at Clemson, Texas, Kansas State and — to a lesser extent because it occurred one day after Friday’s meeting among the member schools’ presidents — Maryland helped fuel the Patriot League’s decision.

“The tone and tenor of the news around athletics the past few weeks as pro sports have tried to start again and voluntary workouts on campuses have resumed, I think what we have seen has made us think that this may be coming, that this may be the decision that our presidents felt needed to be made in the best interest of our student-athletes,” she said. “So there certainly was a part that was not 100 percent surprised.”

The conference did emphasize that teams in fall sports will be permitted to participate in practices and strength and conditioning workouts as long as they follow certain safeguards. Woodruff, who said Loyola athletes may break up into smaller groups to train, endorsed the measure.

“I think that’s very important physically, mentally, emotionally for our student-athletes and our coaches,” she said. “That connection that comes from being a part of a team is a real part of their development, and I’m glad that as we long as we can safely do it, we can continue.”

The Patriot League also stressed that the decision to cancel competitions in the fall does not extend to winter sports like men’s and women’s basketball, men’s and women’s indoor track and field, and wrestling.

“That definitely was intentional,” Woodruff said. “Instead of just stopping the entire fall semester, it gives us some time so that we can see how things do progress nationally. I’m not a medical expert, and I’m sure all of the experts are working overtime right now. But if we’re fortunate that perhaps that we see a great decline in the numbers of cases and we see some improvement in the possibility of a vaccine and that happens in a timely fashion, then yes, we would want to be able to move forward with our winter competitions.”

The conference’s announcement follows a decision by the Ivy League to cancel all athletic competition until Jan. 1, the Big Ten to restrict its football teams to conference-only schedules, and Stanford to cut 11 varsity sports at the end of the 2020-21 academic year. It is a troubling trend for those involved in sports, but Woodruff is trying to remain upbeat.

“Everybody that has been around me for a little while knows that I describe myself as an optimistic pragmatist. So I don’t tend to get too, too high, and I don’t tend to get too, too low,” she said. “So I don’t know if I would say that this is discouraging. I would lean toward, it’s disappointing, but certainly from a pragmatic standpoint, I get it, I understand it. From the optimistic side of me, I’m hopeful that there are better days ahead sooner rather than later. So I’m going to hold on to that hope.”

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