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University of Southern Maine director of athletics Al Bean said he and school administrators “agonized” over the decision to cancel fall semester sports due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. 

But they felt there was no choice.  

“It was a really hard decision. We have great kids like everybody else and they are very passionate [about their sports]. It’s a huge part of their lives and their college experience,” Bean said.

“But, at the end of the day, the safety of our student-athletes and our staff comes first. The challenges are significant and it is the right step to pull back back at this time,” he said. “Everything shut down in March and I don’t think we’re in a much better place now.”

Bean said travel played a big part in their decision. 

“According to the medical professionals, it is an airborne virus and the longer you are on a bus, the more you are at risk even if you wear facemasks and there is a shield between the seats because you are all breathing the same air [in an enclosed environment] and that puts people at risk,” Bean said.

There will be no fall sports season for the men’s and women’s soccer, cross country and tennis teams as well as the women’s field hockey and volleyball teams and the men’s golf squad. USM does not offer football.

Bean did say that student-athletes can participate in “carefully-planned” skill sessions in small numbers.

The decision will also affect that portion of the winter sports schedule as teams start gearing up for their seasons in October. The fall semester ends in the middle of December.

The impact on winter sports will be significant as the men’s and women’s basketball teams each played 11 of its 25 games in the first semester last season and the men’s and women’s ice hockey teams each played 13 of their 27 games before the break.

USM is in the Little East in most sports and the New England Hockey Conference in ice hockey.

Bean, who is in his 38th year at the school and 28th as the director of athletics, said he is hoping that they can have a winter and spring season beginning in the second semester.

“Maybe by then we will have a vaccine or things will have cleaned up,” he said.

The news comes on the heels of last week’s announcement that Colby College in Waterville, Bates College in Lewiston and Bowdoin College in Brunswick lost their fall sports after the New England Small College Athletic Conference decided to pull the plug on the season due to the coronavirus.

Bowdoin College called off its fall sports season last month when it announced its scaled-back reopening plan for the upcoming academic year and Bates College in Lewiston had opened the door for on-campus student-athlete workouts while waiting for a decision on the season.

There has been talk about the fall sports teams moving their seasons to the spring and Bean said that they will look at the options.

He noted that although tennis and golf are fall sports, “the NCAA tennis and golf championships are actually held in the spring so I could see those sports being shifted.”

“But for all the other [fall] sports, it would be a challenge for our staff and for our facilities,” Bean said.

Student-athletes deprived of a season will retain that year of eligibility.