BRIDGEPORT — Fairmont State’s Duvall-Rosier Field, as well as countless other collegiate football stadiums and athletic venues at Division II schools across West Virginia, will sit empty this fall as the Mountain East Conference officially announced Thursday its postponement of all fall sports until the spring semester.
MEC winter sports competition will also be postponed until at least Nov. 1, 2020, the league announced.
The MEC Board of Directors’ decision to postpone fall athletics comes on the heels of last week’s announcement from the NCAA Board of Governors regarding additional requirements and the cancellation of 2020 NCAA Division II Fall Championships due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I pledged to our board, administrators, athletics staffs, and most importantly to our student-athletes that we would exhaust every opportunity to stage competition this fall, and I am confident that is collectively what we have done within the MEC,” said MEC Commissioner Reid Amos. “Present public health challenges, combined with the new mandates put forth by the NCAA last week, create too great of a challenge on too short of a timeline to be able to conduct meaningful competition for our fall sports.”
According to Amos in a Zoom call with the media, the MEC was confident in its most updated plan for the return of fall sports released on July 21, which set the start of practice for football as Sept. 7 and all other fall sports a week later on Sept. 14 with all sports able to participate in official games as early as Oct. 1. But the NCAA Division II Board of Governors put forth further restrictions for fall sports last week when it also announced the cancellation of NCAA Division II fall championships, which Amos said essentially spoiled the MEC’s return to play plans.
“Let me put it like this, we felt very confident regarding the plans we had developed,” Amos said, “but at the point that the NCAA Board of Governors turned guidelines into requirements six days ago, the MEC was then subject to guidelines meant to comprise 50 states and now requires us to be treated in the same fashion as areas that have done poorly managing the spread of COVID-19.”
To put it simply, the NCAA Division II Board of Governors enhanced restrictions for fall sports across the entire country, effectively lumping all states or regions into the same net as far as the viability of a return of athletics this fall.
The MEC will now begin planning the schedules for all of the fall sports (football, women’s volleyball, men’s and women’s soccer, and men’s and women’s cross country, men’s and women’s golf) moving to the spring semester, although no official dates have been set, Amos said. “Those are still choices that need to be made,” he said.
MEC fall sports teams, however, will be allowed to practice this fall and beyond (as allowed under NCAA rules and Board of Governors requirements) at the discretion of university leadership, Amos said. The decision to permit fall sports teams to practice will be up to each MEC university, he said.
Fall sports athletes may also be able to participate in their respective sports rescheduled for the spring without using a year of eligibility. According to Amos, any athletes in conferences that schedule no more than 50 percent of a sport’s allowable 2020-21 contests will not exhaust a year of eligibility based on the eligibility relief provided by the NCAA Division II administrative committee. For example, Amos said the MEC’s tentative plan for football in the spring is for teams to play a five-game schedule followed by a conference championship game, which would be below the 50 percent of allowable games threshold.
“We are tremendously disappointed for our student-athletes, and we recognize the gravity that comes with these decisions,” Amos continued. “We now turn our efforts to keeping our student-athletes engaged with their coaches and teammates this fall, continuing to develop our return to play protocols, creating new schedules for delayed sports, and preparing for our 21 championship events now slated for the winter and spring. We will continue our commitment to providing a meaningful athletics experience for all of our student-athletes and crowning MEC champions during the 2020-21 academic year.”
The MEC also announced the suspension of the indoor track and field championship for the 2020-21 season, and the suspension of all competition in all sports indefinitely with review by the MEC board slated for no later than Oct. 15, 2020.