Players who aren’t fully vaccinated will be tested regularly for COVID-19 and will have to wear masks for practices and games, according to guidelines established by the North Atlantic Conference for their fall sports and finalized by the league’s Presidents Council on Wednesday.
In Maine, those schools include Husson University, Thomas College in Waterville, University of Maine at Farmington, University of Maine at Presque Isle and Maine Maritime Academy in Castine.
It’s the first mandate for students of any level in Maine that will require some athletes to wear masks outdoors. Wearing masks in schools to prevent the spread of the COVID-19 delta variant has become a contentious issue in the state and throughout the country.
“We’re happy to be playing but to have a student wearing a mask while competing isn’t the best scenario,” Husson director of athletics Frank Pergolizzi said. “This is the best we can do until the delta variant dies down a bit.”
Fully vaccinated student-athletes, coaches and others in close contact (known as Tier 1 individuals) will not be required to undergo testing or wear a mask unless they are symptomatic.
The 12 NAC schools are currently requiring students to be vaccinated although deadlines and exemptions vary.
The conference offers seven fall sports including men’s and women’s soccer and cross country, men’s golf, women’s tennis and women’s volleyball.
Husson’s football and field hockey teams are in other conferences. Husson’s football team is in the Commonwealth Coast Conference and the field hockey team plays in the New England Collegiate Conference.
Thomas College and the University of Maine at Farmington are also in the NECC in field hockey.
The CCC and NECC pandemic guidelines are very similar to the NAC’s, Pergolizzi said.
Volleyball is the only indoor sport and Pergolizzi said his team, coaches and Tier I personnel will be wearing masks for practices and games because the school is requiring masks for classes and any indoor facility on campus.
He said most schools have the same guidelines pertaining to indoor masking but if there was a situation where an institution with volleyball didn’t have a mask policy, there would have to be some “negotiating” between the two volleyball opponents to ensure uniformity on the court.
Pergolizzi said spectators will be able to attend their games but what restrictions will be in place — such as masks and social distancing — have yet to be determined.
The other NAC schools are Northern Vermont-Lyndon, Northern Vermont-Johnson and New York schools SUNY Polytechnic Institute, SUNY Delhi, SUNY Canton, SUNY Cobleskill and Cazenovia.
The NAC has released a document explaining procedures and expectations related to communication and contest management, including rules for officials. Schools may implement additional protocols.
If policies between two schools do not align and an agreement can’t be reached, Tier I members will adhere to the most restrictive protocols regardless of the location of the game.