Heightened concerns about testing, travel, practice led to fall sports cancellation

Weeks of deliberation by the college’s athletic department led to a much-anticipated announcement Tuesday: all fall athletic competition is canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Athletic Director and Associate Dean Patricia Nicol said the college reached its decision following an evaluation of the risks associated with continuing scheduled athletic events, testing, gym space, and travel logistics. 

“We did not want to put our student athletes in any [more] increased risk of safety than the general student body,” she said in a phone interview with The Beacon. 

Nicol said the athletic department had reservations about sending athletes to compete at other institutions and was unsure whether or not the college could accommodate the NCAA’s requirements for how often athletes should be tested. 

Over half of the schools in the New England Women’s and Men’s Athletic Conference have opted out of fall competition.

Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Wellesley College, and Mount Holyoke College are among the NEWMAC schools that have canceled fall sports in the past month. Despite these institutions’ announcements, Nicol said the college felt no pressure to make a quick decision.

“We did not want to rush to judgment,” she said. “We wanted to be very intentional in our decisions, and that took time because we know how disappointing and how devastating It is for student athletes to have a season canceled. We wanted to make sure that we had as much information as we could.”

Nicol said the athletic department reached its decision early Tuesday morning and immediately informed the coaching staff of each team. This difficult discussion still led to a supportive response from the department’s staff. 

“It was a sobering conversation,” Nicol said. “The comments that I received, they supported the decision, absolutely. We had some staff that articulated it was the right decision to make, and those are pretty strong words coming from a coach when this is their passion and this is their livelihood.”

The college is now tasked with figuring out how to deal with the financial ramifications of having no fall sports season, including whether or not they will be able to pay coaches. This issue has not yet been discussed, Nicol said. 

While the seven varsity sports impacted by this decision will not be playing games this fall, Nicol said there is still a plan to create a modified practice schedule. The exact details of this arrangement have not been determined, and she said a lack of facilities could be an issue.  

“I know the campus is looking to reimagine classroom work space, so there’s a very good possibility that the gym could be turned into a classroom,” Nicol said. 

Despite the elimination of fall athletics, the campus fitness center will still be available to athletes and the rest of the student body in some capacity. Nicol said the fitness center staff has worked hard to ensure they will be able to continue weight training and conditioning programs while taking proper safety measures. 

Nicol said she also believes Rotch Field, home to five of the college’s varsity sports, will be available. 

“There will be opportunities for student athletes to stay engaged, but how exactly that’s going to look right now, I’ll have to wait to see what we’re dealing with at the time,” she said.