The America East Conference on Wednesday announced that it has revamped its women’s basketball postseason format because of issues related to the COVID-19 pandemic.
As a result, the University of Maine has clinched the America East regular-season title and the No. 1 seed for the playoffs by virtue of its conference winning percentage.
With only Saturday’s game in Orono against New Hampshire remaining, coach Amy Vachon’s Black Bears (15-2 overall, 12-2 in league play) can finish with no lower than an .800 winning percentage.
Meanwhile, second-place Stony Brook (11-5, 9-3 AE) has two games scheduled Feb. 22-23 against UMass Lowell. Even two victories by the Seawolves would produce at best a .786 winning percentage, leaving them behind UMaine.
America East is expected to confirm the development on Thursday.
The conference has decided to end the regular season upon completion of play on Feb. 23. It will start its tournament one week earlier than first planned and will spread out games over three weeks instead of two.
Since all seven remaining America East teams qualify for the postseason, UMaine as the No. 1 seed would secure the quarterfinal bye assigned to that position.
The changes are designed to continue rewarding the top seeds in the standings while prioritizing the health, safety and mental well-being of the student-athletes.
“Since setting our basketball playoff formats last month, conditions have changed, and we’d be negligent to ignore that fact as we look ahead to the season’s home stretch,” America East Commissioner Amy Huchthausen said. “Our student-athletes, coaches and support staffs have endured challenging seasons that have included numerous pauses and schedules changes that have been both physically and emotionally demanding.”
The quarterfinals will be hosted on Sunday, Feb. 28, by the Nos. 2, 3 and 4 seeds. They’ll take on the Nos. 7, 6 and 5 finishers, respectively.
The field will be re-seeded prior to the semifinals, which will be hosted on Sunday, March 7, by UMaine and the other highest surviving seed. The championship game is scheduled for 5 p.m. on Friday, March 12, at the home site of the highest remaining seed.
America East will announce the quarterfinal pairings on Feb. 23.
The conference on Jan. 28 released a postseason format that would have provided byes to the top two seeds, which would have awaited the winners of two-team pods involving the Nos. 3-6 and Nos. 4-5 seeds.
Under that plan, the semifinals and finals were to be played at a predetermined campus site within three hours of the America East’s COVID-19 testing lab partner in Piscataway, New Jersey.
Those plans subsequently were changed in favor of the new arrangement.