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Patriot League cancels fall sports competitions; Army and Navy exempt from decision

Members of the Navy women's soccer team celebrate after capturing the 2019 Patriot League Tournament championship. The Midshipmen will not get an opportunity to defend the title as the Patriot League has canceled competitions for all fall sports programs.
Members of the Navy women's soccer team celebrate after capturing the 2019 Patriot League Tournament championship. The Midshipmen will not get an opportunity to defend the title as the Patriot League has canceled competitions for all fall sports programs. (Courtesy Photo)

Army and Navy are exempt from a Patriot League decision to not conduct competitions for the fall sports programs.

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

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That decision was made by the Patriot League Council of Presidents in recognition of how the global COVID-19 pandemic continues to present significant challenges to its campuses and communities.

Jennifer Heppel, commissioner of Patriot League athletics, said the focus needs to be on higher education and not athletics. All member schools are most concerned with getting students back into a learning environment.

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“From a health and well-being standpoint, things are not getting better in this country,” Heppel told ESPN. “As we get closer to the point where students are going to be making plans to how they travel back to our campuses as well as student-athletes, it became clear for us that this wasn’t going to be in the best interest of our communities to have athletics this fall. That’s the decision that had been made. It’s incredibly disappointing for our student-athletes and our coaches, and it’s not a decision anybody is feeling good about. It’s sad. It’s gut-wrenching.”

A press release issued by the Patriot League said decisions surrounding winter and spring sport competition will be made at a later date. It noted the possibility of fall sports being played during the spring semester, although Heppel said such a decision is well into the future.

“By talking about spring, we’re jumping right over winter, and there are many challenges around winter,” she said. “I think we owe it to be honest and transparent about the fact it is going to be very challenging, but also we owe it to our student-athletes and coaches to creatively explore every opportunity that might be out there.”

The Patriot League announcement said conditioning, strength training and other practice opportunities in all sports will be permitted provided health and safety conditions support such activities.

However, the Patriot League announcement does not apply to its two service academy members, which use athletics to fulfill the physical portion of the mission of developing future officers.

“Because the United States Military Academy and the United States Naval Academy are unique in their environments and their missions within higher education, the Council of Presidents agree that the academies may continue to engage in competitive opportunities as considered appropriate by their respective superintendents,” the release stated.

The Patriot League announcement said the Council of Presidents is committed to exploring creative approaches and alternatives to providing future competitive experiences to fall sport student-athletes, including the possibility of conducting fall sport competition and championships in the second semester.

“The collegiate athletics experience at all Patriot League institutions is valuable to fulfilling our educational and developmental missions, and the (Patriot) League recognizes that any degree of non-competition this fall is deeply disappointing to our student-athletes, coaches, and fans,” the release said. “However, the health and safety of our campuses and communities must be our highest priority.”

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