With increasing coronavirus cases across the country, the America East Conference (AE) announced Friday afternoon that it is postponing fall sports competition for the entirety of the fall 2020 semester. With that announcement, Binghamton’s soccer, volleyball and cross country teams saw their seasons upended. The conference hopes to reschedule their seasons for the spring semester.
“We are disappointed for our student-athletes and coaches, but amid this global health crisis, we fully support the conference decision to postpone fall sports competition,” Binghamton Athletic Director Patrick Elliott said. “We look forward to seeing our student-athletes return to campus this fall for training and then see them compete safely in the sports they love at a later time during the 2020-21 school year.”
This decision only applies to fall sports, and the current plan is for basketball and other winter sports to begin as scheduled. Elliott stated that the league is planning on making a decision regarding its only revenue sport after students have returned for the fall semester.
“Let’s get the students back on campus, let’s get a better idea of what the science is,” Elliott said. “We all fear that it’s gonna be unchanged or it’s gonna be worse, but let’s make those decisions based on the facts present. We don’t really have to make that decision on July 17.”
All teams in the AE are allowed to resume practices and other noncompetitive activities in the fall semester, at each school’s discretion.
On July 8, the Ivy League became the first Division I conference to officially suspend fall sports. On July 13, the Patriot League followed suit, and the Atlantic 10 made the same announcement on Friday. Elliott said that all of the conferences in the Northeast have been on the same page regarding this decision, and had been keeping an eye on how football programs in other parts of the country were responding to the pandemic. While Binghamton’s student-athletes have not practiced since March, several Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) football programs in other parts of the country have been holding voluntary summer workouts.
“What we started to see was the prevalence, even for these [FBS] schools that have been testing their student-athletes for football, and that the disease was there and it was spreading as such,” Elliott said. “The Ivy League wasn’t surprising when they came out with their announcement. We all started to see in the beginning of June what was going on with [Bowl Championship Series] football and that kind of got everyone’s radar off.”
Four AE schools have Football Championship Subdivision (FCS) football programs that participate in the Colonial Athletic Association (CAA). The CAA postponed league play for the semester as well on Friday.
For Binghamton’s fall student-athletes, Elliott informed them that their seasons were canceled in a Zoom call on Friday. Binghamton’s men’s soccer head coach Paul Marco and women’s soccer head coach Neel Bhattacharjee both met with their teams later in the day to discuss the announcement.
“There’s a difference between a bad surprise and getting bad news, and no one really likes bad surprises,” Marco said. “I don’t think this was a bad surprise.”
According to Bhattacharjee, the safety of student-athletes comes first.
“The thing that trumps everything is making sure that our student-athletes are in a safe situation,” Bhattacharjee said. “As you see the numbers rising throughout the country, what’s happened at other programs with their voluntary workouts, football programs specifically and how they’ve had to shut down, [postponing the season was] something that looked more and more as an unlikelihood.”
Currently, the AE plans to hold a fall season in the spring, with the logistics to be determined in the coming months. The NCAA tournaments for fall sports are scheduled to be held as normal, and none of the major conferences have canceled fall sports as of Friday, but the likelihood remains that more conferences will delay their season and that the national championships could be moved as well.
“I think that we’re already headed down that path,” Marco said. “Everybody has talked about the Ivy League, [but] I think that all conferences have been talking about this for at least a month now. I think that the more conferences come forward and say we aren’t going to play, I don’t know how they could possibly hold the championships — there just won’t be any teams to play in it.”
In a statement, AE commissioner Amy Huchthausen emphasized the league’s meticulousness in decision making amid the unprecedented situation.
“This was not an easy conclusion for our membership to reach but it was made with care and diligence and with health and safety as the highest priority,” Huchthausen wrote in the statement. “For the last several months, we have been working extensively with our membership to prepare for the fall sports season, including developing health and safety protocols, revising schedules and creating contingency plans. We have remained optimistic that we could safely conduct a fall sports season, however, there are several external factors outside of our institutions’ control that will limit and disrupt our ability to deliver our student-athletes an experience they deserve. While several outstanding issues and questions remain, we are hopeful that creative thinking and solutions will emerge in concert with improved measures to reduce the risk associated with COVID-19 as the academic year unfolds.”