PLYMOUTH, N.H. – The Little East Conference (LEC) and New England Hockey Conference (NEHC) both announced changes to their fall semester schedules due to the continued impact of the coronavirus in separate releases Tuesday morning.
The LEC has suspended all regular season play and conference championships for Fall 2020 following a unanimous vote of its Presidents Council. The decision affects all of the league's fall sports, as well as the start of the 2020-21 basketball seasons, in terms of conference play only.
In a similar move, the NEHC Board of Directors has voted to postpone the 2020 portion of the upcoming conference schedule and is working to create a new league schedule to begin after January 1. Plymouth State's women's ice hockey program is a member of the NEHC.
As a primary member of the LEC, Plymouth State's men's and women's cross country, men's and women's soccer, field hockey, women's tennis, women's volleyball and men's and women's basketball programs will all be affected by the change. The league will move the women's tennis conference regular season and championship and men's golf conference championship to the spring to coincide with the NCAA Division III Championships. Plymouth State does not sponsor a men's golf program.
A determination regarding the other fall sports and adjustments to the basketball schedules will be made at a later date. The league has granted each member institution the ability to schedule non-conference games in the fall, which could include contests against LEC members that would not count in terms of LEC standings once conference competition hopefully resumes in 2021.
Likewise, the NEHC is supportive of institutional freedom regarding potential non-conference scheduling for the fall semester. League schools may schedule contests against other NEHC members during the fall, though such games would not count in the conference standings.
The Massachusetts State Collegiate Athletic Conference (MASCAC), of which Plymouth State is an affiliate member in the sports of football and men's ice hockey, announced the postponement of fall sports earlier this month. The conference stated it was considering shifting fall athletics to the spring and had yet to evaluate the status of winter sports.
The NCAA has already made multiple changes in an attempt to alleviate the stress on student-athletes at the Division III level. On July 10 the Division III Administrative Committee approved blanket waivers assuring student-athletes would not be charged with a year of participation for the 2020-21 season if their team can complete only 50% or less of the sport's maximum contests/dates of competition due to the ongoing impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. Last week the Division III Management Council approved flexibility to define the playing season by a certain number of days instead of weeks, eliminating the distinction between traditional and nontraditional segments. The NCAA board of governors has not announced plans to cancel or postpone the NCAA fall championships, though president Mark Emmert, in a statement released on Twitter on July 24, noted "We all remain deeply concerned about the infection trend lines we see. It is clear that the format of our championships will have to change if they are to be conducted in a safe and fair manner." The board is next expected to meet on August 4.
Full statements from both leagues, as well as comments from Plymouth State Director of Athletics Kim Bownes and President Donald L. Birx, Ph.D. are included below.
STATEMENT FROM DIRECTOR OF ATHLETICS KIM BOWNES
The last four months, starting with the NCAA's cancelation of the winter championships and subsequent end of spring sports, have been especially challenging for those in collegiate athletics and my heart goes out to all of our student-athletes and staff members. Athletics has been a vital part of the overall student experience at Plymouth State for nearly a century and there are no words to fully express the sense of loss our student-athletes must be feeling.
Plymouth State is wholly committed to the safety and well-being of its students and the University has established a robust testing program for all faculty, staff and students. While we acknowledge that athletics will look different this fall, we remain committed to trying to provide an opportunity for our student-athletes to compete safely.
We will adhere to the guidelines set forth by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the N.H. Department of Health and Human Services, the University System of New Hampshire and the NCAA, and will continue to reevaluate and adjust as circumstances deem necessary.
Kim Bownes, Director of Athletics
STATEMENT FROM PLYMOUTH STATE PRESIDENT DONALD L. BIRX, PH.D.
Athletics are an important part of the PSU experience, and we take great pride in the hard work and dedication of our student-athletes both on and off the field. League performance provides just one measure of our competitors' strength and resilience, however, and we are working hard to provide alternative playing options for Fall 2020. They will be announced as soon as we can firm them up.
My message to Panther Nation is this: The extraordinary circumstances that we find ourselves in have no bearing on Plymouth State's commitment to our extensive athletic program. The transformative impact of our team environment; the mentorship and skills imparted by our dedicated coaches, staff and associated faculty; and our proud athletics history that dates to 1925 are firm foundations that will continue to support our student-athletes for years to come. We look forward to seeing you here and working on an experience that helps you attain your athletic goals.
Donald L. Birx, Ph.D., President
FULL RELEASE FROM THE LITTLE EAST CONFERENCE
Following a unanimous vote of the Little East Conference (LEC) Presidents Council, it has been determined the LEC will not conduct conference regular season competition or championships during the Fall 2020 semester due to the continued impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. Each LEC member institution may seek to participate in intercollegiate competition and on-campus training activities if it chooses to do so during the Fall 2020 semester, in accordance with current health and safety guidelines and NCAA Division III rules.
This difficult decision, on we know is heart-breaking for our student-athletes, was arrived at following months of weekly planning meetings by the LEC Athletic Directors Council, which sought to find a path that led to a full return of intercollegiate competition that was safe for each member of our campus communities. This was done in consultation with state and institution health officials and epidemiologists, the LEC athletic trainers, numerous campus task forces and working groups, and in consideration of recommended health and safety guidelines from the CDC and NCAA.
Work will begin immediately to create a new women's tennis LEC regular season schedule and reschedule the men's golf and women's tennis championships, as the NCAA Division III Championships will be contested during the Spring 2021 semester, and examine how to best adjust the conference men's and women's basketball schedules to begin after the New Year.
The Conference and its athletic directors will also explore what opportunities may be available to conduct Fall sports regular seasons and championships during the Spring 2021 semester as we continue to monitor the ever-changing local, regional and national landscape as it relates to the pandemic.
FULL RELEASE FROM THE NEW ENGLAND HOCKEY CONFERENCE
The New England Hockey Conference (NEHC) Board of Directors has voted to postpone the 2020 portion of this season's conference schedule. The league is supportive of institutional autonomy regarding potential nonconference scheduling for the fall semester. NEHC members may also schedule contests against each other this fall, however those games would not count for league standing purposes.
The goal of this resolution is to provide each member institution with flexibility as it pertains to the fall semester portion of their schedule. Each member institution will provide its own update on the status of athletics, and specifically ice hockey, at their institution.
The NEHC is actively working through conference schedule models with member administrators and coaches that will maximize participation opportunities for all of the league's student-athletes for contests occurring after January 1.
Additional updates will be provided as they become available.
– 30 –