University of Maine President Joan Ferrini-Mundy on Tuesday paused winter athletics activities through at least Dec. 8 due to positive test results on campus, including among people involved with the varsity athletic programs.
Ferrini-Mundy made the decision after consulting with the University of Maine System and other campus leaders.
The UMaine men’s basketball team was in Uncasville, Connecticut, preparing for Wednesday’s scheduled game against No. 4 Virginia at Mohegan Sun Arena when one of the players was “presumed positive” after being tested, according to UMaine director of athletics Ken Ralph.
Ralph said the Mohegan Tribe mailed tests to be taken by all members of the traveling party on Sunday in order to be admitted to the venue. Those results weren’t known until they arrived Monday at Mohegan Sun, where they were to be tested again.
UMaine also performed its own tests prior to getting on the bus for the trip.
Tyson McHatten, UMaine’s the senior associate director of athletics for external operations/communications, said a Tuesday test of the player came back negative.
UMaine also performed its own tests on the members of the travel party.
McHatten said no members of the men’s basketball program have tested positive for the coronavirus.
UMaine would not disclose how many student-athletes have tested positive for COVID-19, but they involve multiple teams and not just winter sports athletes, Ferrini-Mundy said. The UMaine System reported Tuesday that there were seven new COVID-19 cases on the Orono campus among residential students.
Ralph said because UMaine recently ramped up testing protocols as the basketball and hockey teams were preparing to play games, they weren’t surprised to encounter positive cases. The student-athletes have been tested daily.
“This allows us to shut things down to keep everybody on campus and in the community as safe as possible. Being a student-athlete exposes you to a greater degree of risk in some areas,” Ralph said.
As a result of Ferrini-Mundy’s decision, the UMaine men’s basketball team will lose four scheduled games. The Black Bears’s contests against Virginia, Central Connecticut State, Quinnipiac and Northeastern are canceled and won’t be made up.
The UMaine women were slated to play Mississippi State and either Connecticut or Quinnipiac this weekend at Mohegan Sun. A positive case on the UConn team resulted in cancellation earlier Tuesday of the four-team Naismith Memorial Women’s Basketball Challenge tournament.
The Black Bears hockey teams each have postponed four games, but Ralph said the flexible schedule established by Hockey East will enable them to reschedule those games.
“They just won’t play as many games now,” said Ralph, noting that the makeup games will replace previously scheduled nonconference contests against Hockey East opponents.
Men’s basketball, the only UMaine team on the road, is returning to Orono. Practices and other team activities will be modified over the next two weeks.
Ferrini-Mundy emphasized that the setback does not diminish her desire to have the teams return to action as soon as things are safe.
“Intercollegiate athletics are vital not only to the university and the community, but to the state as well,” she said.
Ferrini-Munday said UMaine will continue to monitor the situation closely and will assess all the information on Dec. 8 to determine whether it is safe to return to competition. Considerations will include the state’s COVID-19 trends and travel guidelines in states where Black Bear teams are scheduled to play.
“The coronavirus is getting worse and I expect more cases,” she said.
Ralph said student-athletes are doing an exceptional job adhering to the protocols and UMaine’s aggressive and thorough testing program gives it an advantage.
“While this interruption will be difficult on our teams, it is in keeping with our premise that the health and safety of our community is the priority,” Ralph said. “We will do all we can to positively engage our students in the safest way possible. We are grateful for the support we have received and our teams look forward to returning to competition when it is deemed safe to do so.”