America East officials announced plans Monday for conference play in men’s and women’s basketball, while also setting up a spring season for the fall sports that were postponed because of the coronavirus pandemic.
America East, of which the University of Maine is a member, will play an 18-game conference schedule that will consist of weekend series where a team hosts the same opponent on back-to-back days for two games.
That schedule is set to begin Dec. 19, with open weekends later in the season to accommodate any postponed games. Schools will have the option to pick up nonconference games in the first three weeks of the season.
“It’s the best news we could hope for, under the circumstances,” said Maine men’s basketball coach Richard Barron. “We have a plan. I mean, even if it’s aspirational, it’s something we can move toward. I think everyone understands not only is there work to be done under the current circumstances just to be able to make that happen, but there’s expectations that things either have to get better or, at worse, stay status quo. So how things progress over these next few months is critical.”
The new spring season will allow the fall sports teams to play a limited schedule while setting up championship tournaments.
“It’s an encouraging first step,” said Scott Atherley, in his 20th season as the Black Bears women’s soccer coach. “It allows us to better conceptualize what our season might look like, and ultimately plan. We’re all cautiously optimistic. There’s still a number of challenges that we need to overcome for us to be safely planning for the spring.”
America East officials know that each school faces specific challenges within its state in order to compete. Maine, for instance, must receive some clearance from state officials before it could play at, or host, out-of-state competition without quarantining. And state guidelines would severely limit having spectators at games.
Weather could also be a factor, especially in Orono, with schedules to begin in February or March.
“We acknowledge this will be a unique season with many variables both within and outside of our control, but we will continue working with relevant stakeholder groups as we build towards a basketball season that prioritizes the health and safety of our teams and broader campus communities,” said America East Commissioner Amy Huchthausen. “While we continue moving forward with preparations, we are realistic that adaptation and flexibility are critical as conditions evolve in order to successfully navigate this season.”
For the fall sports that saw their seasons postponed in July, America East has established a spring season schedule:
• Cross country championships will be held March 5, site still to be determined.
• Field hockey will play an eight-game round-robin regular season beginning March 19 through April 17. Four teams will qualify for the league championships, to be held April 22 and 24.
• Women’s soccer will play a six-game schedule from March 17 to April 11. Four teams will qualify for the league championships, to be held April 16 and 18.
“It provides hope,” said Atherley. “I’ve spoken to colleagues across the league and everyone will be grateful to have something.”
Maine field hockey coach Josette Babineau added, “I definitely think it’s good that America East has released start dates and what their intention is for field hockey… Obviously there’s a lot of uncertainty but just to be able to have something announced for the spring I think is very exciting for our team.”
The conference also announced the cancellation of the indoor track championships, while allowing member schools to pick up regular-season competition. Also, the America East swimming and diving championships will be moved to the spring season, with more information to come.
The New England Small College Athletic Conference, of which Bowdoin, Bates and Colby are members, has already announced the cancellation of its winter seasons.