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MEAC latest to announce decision to suspend fall sports

Morgan State football players listen to their school's band play their fight song following a game against Army on Saturday, Sept. 21, 2019 in West Point, N.Y. (AP Photo/Julius Constantine Motal)
Morgan State football players listen to their school's band play their fight song following a game against Army on Saturday, Sept. 21, 2019 in West Point, N.Y. (AP Photo/Julius Constantine Motal) (Julius Constantine Motal/AP)

The Morgan State football team’s 2020 season will end before it even had a chance to begin after the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference (MEAC) suspended all fall sports, including football, in the face of uncertainty created by the coronavirus pandemic.

The MEAC joins the Ivy League and the Patriot League as conferences that have canceled or postponed fall sports. It’s unclear whether the MEAC will follow the Ivy League’s decision to push fall sports to the spring, but conference officials said that possibility is under consideration.

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“The health and safety of our student-athletes continue to be our number one priority. We have made the decision to suspend all sports competitions after careful review of the current conditions and consideration of the potential exposure that regular travel to competitions may cause and ongoing extensive physical contact,” said Howard University President and Chair of MEAC Council of Presidents and Chancellors, Dr. Wayne A. I. Frederick in a release issued Thursday. “While our competitions have been suspended, each member institution will plan ongoing engagement of all student-athletes to ensure optimization of their physical and mental well-being as they continue their matriculation.”

The cancellation of the fall football schedule will deprive several schools of substantial revenue they would have received for match-ups with FBS opponents. In a conference call with media members, Frederick said “most certainly, we’re going to take some kind of financial hit.”

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But he emphasized the decision was made “without any consideration, really, for the financial impact. ... Health and safety was the primary driver and to be quite honest, the only driver.”

Frederick added that the conference is in “pretty good, stable condition, financially. Any hit is one that we want to avoid ... but for all intents and purposes, the things that the conference needs to do, and the revenues that we have coming in, we’ve been looking at the budget very closely, making adjustments as is necessary, and we feel comfortable with where we are.”

The conference’s decision also impacts Coppin State’s cross country and volleyball programs. Coppin State president Anthony L. Jenkins said the university would continue to honor its financial aid to those athletes.

“Like all decisions we’ve made related to COVID-19 pandemic, this was a difficult one,” Jenkins said in a written statement. “Our highest priority is the health and well-being of our students and community. We must acknowledge the fact that our teams travel to other MEAC institutions and cannot compete without breaking in some form from social distancing guidelines still maintained by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In addition, sports events also invite individuals to our campus who may not be subject to the testing and monitoring that we plan to implement for our students, faculty, and staff. We know this news is disappointing to our scholar-athletes, especially our seniors, as well as the entire Eagle Nation. While we can appreciate your disappointment, please note the university will always prioritize your health and safety above all else.”

At the University of Maryland Eastern Shore, the cross country and volleyball teams will lose their entire seasons. The suspension will impact parts of the seasons for the men’s and women’s golf and women’s bowling programs.

“This is not something that we take lightly and while nobody wants our student-athletes to miss part of their athletic careers, we must put their well-being ahead of competition at this time,” UMES athletic director Keith Davidson said in a statement.

While commenting on the defection of three Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) announced this year, MEAC commissioner Dennis E. Thomas told The Sun that the COVID-19 outbreak was casting a large shadow over the state of college athletics.

“There’s no playbook for this because it hasn’t happened before,” he said. “The environment has been changing every day, every week and every month since March, and it’s going to change more before August gets here. Institutions and conferences are doing what they think is best for their institutions and student-athletes. But we don’t know how this is going to land with the fall sports and cancellations of games. At this point, most Division I administrators have all options on the table, including moving fall sports to the spring. That will obviously be a compact model and paradigm, but we’re going to have to be creative in our thinking before we make a final decision.”

Baltimore Sun reporter Childs Walker contributed to this article.

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