Towson and UMBC became the latest Baltimore-area schools to have their fall sports plans upended when their respective conferences announced Friday that league schedules would be canceled.
The Colonial Athletic Association, which includes Towson, announced that it was suspending fall football but would give member schools the freedom to pursue their own schedules. Towson has opted against an independent schedule, citing the preponderance of potential competitors that have also suspended fall sports. The university will also suspend competition in field hockey, volleyball, women’s cross country and women’s soccer.
“This decision was not made lightly,” Towson athletic director Tim Leonard said in a statement. “I know the impact this will have on our student-athletes and the greater Towson community. It is going to be significant. But it became evident to us during weeks, months, of discussions with the other athletic directors both in the CAA as well as in this region that it would be nearly impossible to play a full fall sports season. Therefore, we made the decision to go ahead and suspend the fall sports season today. We will follow federal, state, and local guidelines as we are moving forward when we make an informed decision regarding the winter and spring sports.”
The CAA’s board of directors “expressed a strong commitment to exploring the possibility of conducting a football season during the Spring of 2021,” in a statement released by the conference.
Towson football coach Rob Ambrose declined to comment.
“I commend the Board of Directors for their forward thinking and open-mindedness when dealing with the uncertain and complex moment that we find ourselves in,” CAA Commissioner Joe D’Antonio said in a statement. “Each of our institutions is making the best decisions for its campus community, based on a totality of the circumstances analysis.”
The America East Conference, meanwhile, announced a blanket postponement of fall sports, leaving UMBC’s men’s and women’s soccer, men’s and women’s cross country and volleyball programs in limbo until spring at the earliest.
“We are heartbroken for our student-athletes and coaches, who have been diligently preparing during the current pandemic for a return to competition, and who now face a fall without intercollegiate competition,” UMBC athletic director Brian Barrio said in a statement. “The emotional and mental impact of that loss is considerable – and our staff will be here to support these members of the Retriever family in any way that we can.
Barrio said he had no objections regarding the suspension.
“As difficult as this decision is, we are confident it is the right course of action under the present circumstances,” he said. “There are a myriad of challenges in providing safe travel, lodging, and competition for our student-athletes during the COVID-19 pandemic. At the same time, our student-athletes would begin to travel and compete, the general student body, faculty, and staff will be engaged in reopening campus for the first time since March. As much as we all desire a return to competition, moving forward and accepting the potential risks associated with competing under these conditions is not consistent with our institutional values and the care we have for the well-being of the entire campus community.”
University of Albany president Dr. Havidán Rodríguez, who chairs the America East Board of Presidents which announced the postponement, characterized the decision process over the past few weeks as “unquestionably difficult.”
“However, this proactive decision by our members to postpone fall sport athletics competition for the duration of the first semester is in the best interest of all America East student-athletes, athletics departments and university communities,” Rodríguez said in a statement. “Right now, it is imperative that each of our institutions can safely reopen to their broader campus communities and this decision supports those efforts. ... Unfortunately, given the current persistence, restrictions and uncertainty associated with the COVID-19 pandemic, it is clear to us now that this difficult, but responsible decision must be made.”
Added league commissioner Amy Huchthausen in the same release: “This was not an easy conclusion for our membership to reach but it was made with care and diligence and with health and safety as the highest priority. ... We have remained optimistic that we could safely conduct a fall sports season, however, there are several external factors outside of our institutions’ control that will limit and disrupt our ability to deliver our student-athletes an experience they deserve.”
The America East emphasized that the suspension was not a cancellation and student-athletes could continue to practice and train provided they follow NCAA rules and local and state health and safety guidelines.
UMBC men’s soccer coach Pete Caringi Jr. said practicing together would be particularly helpful for his team, which welcomes 11 freshman to the fold.
“I don’t want to overdo it, but we want to have, if possible, a fun and productive fall and see where it takes us for the spring,” he said. “It’s going to take some time for them to see what college soccer is all about. With all of these freshmen coming in, what a time it is for them.”
The 65-year-old Caringi noted that this fall will be his first in 51 years that he has not played or coached soccer. But he said he backed the America East’s decision.
“I think it’s probably the right move for the safety issues,” he said. “I’m not shocked, but hearing it today officially does kind of give you a little jolt. I’m disappointed for the players also.”
In interviews last week, both Leonard and Barrio acknowledged the uncertainty facing their fall programs and the growing pessimism around college sports in general as COVID-19 numbers worsened around the country. But both held out hope that they would not repeat the dispiriting experiences of spring, when seasons were abruptly canceled as the pandemic spread.
Towson welcomed football players back to campus over the last two weeks with an eye on ramping up to practice.
Hopes dwindled in recent days, however, as a succession of conferences, large and small, announced cancellations, postponements and alterations of their fall plans. Towson watched $325,000 in expected revenue vanish when its game with Maryland was wiped out by the Big Ten’s move to a conference-only schedule. Meanwhile, neighboring universities such as Loyola Maryland, Morgan State and Coppin State saw their fall schedules eliminated by conference decisions.
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Towson now plans to have athletes return with all other students on Aug. 24. The university then plans to phase in practices for fall teams after testing athletes for COVID-19 and implementing a program to monitor them for symptoms.