The state will defer to college and professional leagues in terms of guidance regarding sports competition during the COVID-19 pandemic, Maine Department of Health and Human Services Commissioner Jeanne Lambrew said Thursday.
During the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s regular press conference, Lambrew said Maine’s community sports guidance is intended for high school sports and other youth and community activities, but that those protocols do not apply to pro and college sports.
“The state of Maine does not have guidance for professional and collegiate sports,” Lambrew said. “There are national associations that do professional sports. We know there are different leagues that govern the different collegiate sports, so that is not a set of guidelines that the state does.”
That means the University of Maine and Division III colleges across the state, along with pro organizations such as the Maine Mariners hockey club of the ECHL, are free to compete under their own rules for preventing and controlling the spread of the coronavirus.
DHHS spokesperson Jackie Farwell said those teams still must abide by indoor gathering limits established by the state, which at present is 50 people.
Pro and college athletes are subjected to more testing than high school and youth league athletes as mandated by the NCAA and their respective conferences.
Even though Maine colleges will follow NCAA and conference protocols for COVID-19, teams within the University of Maine system still must receive permission to play from Chancellor Dannel Malloy, Provost John Volin and the Board of Trustees.
“We are grateful to Dr. Lambrew and all she is doing to keep Maine safe,” UMaine athletics director Ken Ralph said. “This clarification is helpful and we will continue to work with university and system leadership as we examine all potential safe return options. We are doing all we can to create an environment for our athletes which will allow a resumption of competition but we recognize there are still concerns to be navigated.”
Kissy Walker, the head women’s basketball coach at Division III Husson University in Bangor and a former UMaine point guard, said Thursday’s news is great for the University of Maine.
“That is a huge hurdle for them to get over,” she said.
Walker said the development didn’t impact her program as much because Husson’s situation is much different than UMaine’s.
Husson’s starting date for basketball games isn’t until the end of January 2021 and its travel schedule will be extremely limited. Eight of Husson’s 10 North Atlantic Conference games in men’s and women’s basketball will be against in-state teams.
The other two will be against Northern Vermont University-Lyndon. There are no travel restrictions or quarantines in effect for travel between Maine and Vermont.
Husson’s other in-state opponents are the University of Maine at Farmington, the University of Maine at Presque Isle, Thomas College in Waterville and Maine Maritime Academy in Castine.
“We will be doing day trips,” Walker said.
The UMaine men’s and women’s basketball teams are members of America East, which includes schools from eight different states. The Black Bears’ men’s and women’s hockey teams compete in Hockey East, which is composed of teams from six states.
Although the schedules have yet to be officially released, UMaine teams could be playing as early as next month.
The women’s basketball team is scheduled to play perennial NCAA power Mississippi State on Nov. 28 at the Basketball Hall of Fame Classic at the Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, Connecticut.
UMaine men’s hockey coach Red Gendron said Hockey East has worked hard establishing guidelines relative to safety and set up a committee that put together a comprehensive document that details numerous measures to keep everybody safe.
“There have been a lot of people working non-stop at the university to keep everybody safe through testing, social distancing and mask-wearing,” Gendron said.
“Everyone has been working hard to follow guidelines established by the state and the NCAA,” he added.
Gendron said everyone is going to have to continue to follow all the guidelines “until such a time we come up with a vaccine or a cure or a combination of the two that makes the [coronavirus] much less prevalent.”