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Editor’s note: America East suspended spring sports for the rest of the semester after it was reported initially that it would only be until April 3.
Within hours of the cancellation of the Hockey East Association men’s hockey tournament and the America East Conference basketball championship games — in response to the coronavirus pandemic — America East took a broader step on Thursday afternoon.
America East, which initially informed member schools including the University of Maine of its intention to put spring sports on hold for three weeks, has instead suspended all sports competitions and practices for the remainder of the semester.
At UMaine that includes baseball, softball and outdoor track and field, along with fall sports teams like women’s soccer and field hockey that conduct training in the spring.
Director of athletics Ken Ralph responded to the development in the wake of sweeping cancellations and postponements of college sports competitions across the country. Those included the unprecedented step by the NCAA of canceling all of its championships both for the remainder of the winter season and for the spring season.
“Right now, there’s more important things going on in the world than sports and we’ve got to keep our students, faculty, staff and communities safe,” Ralph said.
The season is officially over for UMaine men’s hockey and women’s basketball. First, their respective tournaments were canceled on Thursday. Then, the NCAA decided not to conduct its national championship tournaments.
Ralph said there has been no negative feedback in regard to the decisions made to halt competitions.
“I think people recognize this is a rather unique health situation and people have been incredibly understanding,” he said. “In fact, we’ve received more notes of support than I think we were expecting, including some facilities [of student-athletes] who are very grateful that these decisions were reached.”
UMaine women’s basketball coach Amy Vachon, whose Black Bears were to play Friday in the team’s fifth consecutive America East women’s basketball title contest, spoke for everyone in her program.
“While we are disappointed to not have the chance to compete in the America East championship game, we fully support the decision made by league officials to cancel the event,” Vachon said. “The focus on public health, including the health and safety of our staff and student-athletes, is our number one priority at this time.”
The Black Bears baseball team, which had originally planned to play games in Maryland this weekend and in Florida next week — then altered its schedule to remain in Maryland — was headed back to Maine after flying to Baltimore in vain on Thursday.
Ralph said the decision Wednesday night by the National Basketball Association to suspend play appears to have been a catalyst in spurring other organizations to take similar action.
“Once the NBA canceled [Wednesday] night, I think that really raised a lot of eyebrows,” Ralph said. “The big thing is, we’re not in this alone. It’s national, it’s happening to everybody.”
Ralph said discussions about the repercussions of the coronavirus for college athletics began in earnest last week, but that everything accelerated dramatically in the last 48 hours.
As the United States and people all over the world wait to see how the effects of the coronavirus unfold, at least some UMaine student-athletes may stay and work out behind the scenes.
“A number of the students have talked to us saying they feel safer being up here in Orono where you’re less likely to come into contact with somebody who has contracted the virus,” Ralph said.
Watch: Symptoms of the coronavirus disease