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The North Atlantic Conference, a Division III league that is home to five small colleges in Maine, announced Monday that it will not sponsor any fall sports competition in 2020.
The decision by NAC school presidents and athletic administrators stems from the complications caused by the COVID-19 pandemic that has gripped the United States.
Citing months of consideration regarding possible options for safely engaging in athletics this fall, the NAC announced that offering a traditional fall sports experience is not in the best interest of student-athletes, staff and campus communities.
North Atlantic Conference members include Husson University in Bangor, Maine Maritime Academy in Castine, the University of Maine at Presque Isle, Thomas College in Waterville and the University of Maine at Farmington.
Husson and Maine Maritime on Friday had announced their intention not to offer intercollegiate sports during the fall semester because of health and safety concerns stemming from the pandemic.
The fall sports offered by the NAC are men’s and women’s soccer, men’s and women’s cross country, women’s tennis, men’s golf and women’s volleyball.
“This is a difficult day for NAC students, coaches and staff,” NAC Commissioner Marcella Zalot said.
“I want to thank the athletics administrators and leadership at each institution for their efforts to try and play a NAC fall season. What we wished we could do and ultimately what we are able to do are just in two different places right now.”
Zalot said it is her hope student-athletes eventually will be rewarded by being able to compete in their respective sports.
The conference decision does not preclude member institutions from offering athletics-related activities, including competition, during the fall semester. It indicated that schools may choose to safely conduct athletics at their own discretion.
Those activities may include practices, strength and conditioning, intrasquad events and intercollegiate competitions.
The NAC said it will continue to look into the possibility of sponsoring fall sports during the spring semester.
“We’re doing everything we can to ensure the safety of all those who take part in athletics within the NAC while allowing for competition among institutions when it is safe to do so,” said Raymond Rice, President of UMaine-Presque Isle and chair of the NAC Presidents’ Council.
“While it won’t be a traditional experience for us this fall, we know how important it is to have a plan in place that provides member schools with options to conduct athletics in a way that supports the well-being of student athletes and athletic staff.”
However, Thomas College on Monday said it will soon announce a date for the preseason return of athletes to campus to start building a team culture with individual and team training and strength and conditioning.
It is the school’s intention to sponsor the maximum number of competitions allowed against other colleges that have enacted COVID-19 testing programs similar to its own.
“I pledge to our athletes that Thomas College will create a meaningful and exciting modified athletics season for fall 2020,” Thomas athletics director Christopher Parsons said. “The rigorous COVID-19 testing regimen that the college has invested in this fall opens the door for athletic opportunities that other schools cannot provide.”
The NAC stressed that under a program announced recently by the NCAA, the governing body for much of collegiate athletics in the country, eligible Division III student-athletes whose teams compete in 50 percent or fewer of the sport’s maximum number of contests or competition dates this fall due to COVID-19 will retain that season of participation.
NCAA student-athletes are allowed five years to complete four seasons of competition.
“I cannot help but feel positive and excited for the unique opportunities that we will create together that will build even stronger team and community foundations for our bright future,” Parsons said.