As colleges and universities across the country evaluate how their campuses will operate when they reopen in the fall — still cautious in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic — the University of Massachusetts Boston campus is planning for a fall minus athletics.
In a memo sent last week to the campus community, Boston interim chancellor Katherine Newman said the school will continue with remote learning and refrain from on-campus activities.
“We are hopeful that October will bring reassuring news and that we will have the opportunity to open some on-campus programs,” Newman said. “We are even more optimistic that the spring semester 2021 will see the campus return to a “new normal” that will allow for the restoration of our full curriculum, research, residential and student life. For the moment, however, we will adapt to the conditions we face with enthusiasm and creativity even as we know it will permit neither a fall season for our athletics program nor other on-ground student activities.”
The UMass Boston athletics department sponsors 18 varsity teams at the Division III level in the Little East Conference — nine men’s and seven women’s. Its fall sports include men’s and women’s soccer, men’s and women’s cross-country, volleyball and women’s tennis. Last fall, in a 19-3-1 season, the Beacon women’s soccer team won the Little East title and played in the first round of the NCAA D3 tourney. The men’s soccer team was 12-3-4, and women’s tennis served up a 14-2 season.
Newman asked for feedback from the UMass-Boston community. Many of the responses expressed the importance of and need for sports. At the same time, despite the progress made since early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic in March, there are still valid concerns about the safety of hosting large events — particularly sporting events — as the world continues to recover from the pandemic.
Newman presented a condensed version of that feedback to the university board of trustees. The board is expected to make a final decision by early July, according to a university spokesman.
UMass Boston is the first college program in the state to announce that it would not have fall sports. On Wednesday, MIT said that it would only allow 60 percent of its undergraduates to return when it reopens.
Even the earliest stages of projections of how sports will look have taken into account that not every school would participate. Earlier this month, Little East Conference presidents stated their commitment to having sports return in the fall.
Rhode Island College president Frank Sanchez, the chair of the LEC presidents council, “We want you to know that our institutions are firmly committed to having athletics on our campuses as we open this fall.”
Much of the focus nationwide has been on football. On Wednesday, the NCAA approved a six-week practice plan that would allow football programs to move from the voluntary workouts to normal mandatory meetings and camps in July. The Boston College’s is expected to report Monday, quarantining for two weeks before being able to practice.
In an interview posted to Twitter in May, NCAA president Mark Emmert attempted to brace for an unusual road ahead as conference commissioners, school presidents, and athletic departments navigate their own unique circumstances.
“All of the commissioners and every president that I’ve talked to is in clear agreement: If you don’t have students on campus, you don’t have student-athletes on campus,” Emmert said. “That doesn’t mean it has to be up and running in the full normal model, but you have to treat the health and well-being of the athletes at least as much as the regular students . . . If a school doesn’t reopen, then they’re not going to be playing sports. It’s really that simple.”
Julian Benbow can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.