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NESCAC cancels fall sports amid concerns over coronavirus pandemic

The Biggest Little Game in America between Amherst and Williams will not take place in 2020.
The Biggest Little Game in America between Amherst and Williams will not take place in 2020.Amherst College

Cassie Kearney, a rising junior on the Middlebury College women’s cross-country team, was in the midst of a 4-mile run around her neighborhood in Rockland Friday afternoon when she learned that the New England Small College Athletic Conference had canceled fall sports for 2020 because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I kind of was expecting it, but it is definitely a bummer to hear it coming out for real,” said Kearney, who was the Globe’s 2018 New England prep school Female Athlete of the Year as a senior at Thayer Academy.

Tufts football coach Jay Civetti, at home with his daughters when the announcement became official, also saw the writing on the wall.


“I kind of assumed that after the Ivy League [canceled sports until at least Jan. 1],” Civetti said. “I think just everybody’s trying to keep people safe and making sure that we’re doing our primary job in taking care of the people that are primarily responsible for us. That’s always how the NESCAC has always aligned, people first. Obviously it’s disappointing, but I’m sure we’ll find a way to work around it and do the most for our student athletes.”

The presidents of the 11 NESCAC schools voted unanimously to cancel the season.

“Over the last several months, NESCAC institutions have been focused on the safe reopening of their campuses this fall,” said the presidents’ statement.

“Member institutions have recently announced plans for the upcoming year, with the health and well-being of students, faculty, staff, and the broader community the foremost concern. In keeping with public health guidance, each of our institutions has put in place physical distancing protocols, limits on travel on and off campus, and limits on the size of on-campus gatherings. Consistent with these policies, the NESCAC Presidents have decided unanimously, though with great reluctance, that NESCAC conference competition for fall sports must be canceled for fall 2020.”


On the heels of the Ivy League’s decision and a variety of changes made to the schedules across the NCAA sports landscape, the NESCAC came out with its decision as dominoes begin to fall.

NESCAC member institutions Bowdoin and Williams College had already canceled its fall seasons. The NESCAC and Ivy League were the first two conferences to cancel their spring seasons.

In the release, the conference said members institutions are focused on finding ways to “provide meaningful athletic opportunities for our students during the upcoming academic year.”

Kearney, a 2018 All-American, already has an idea of how she hopes to stay involved with her teammates. At Middlebury, all students are returning to campus, so Kearney hopes to run with her teammates casually and safely.

“Even though we don’t know what competitions looks like in the future, we hope to train or have practice,” Kearney said.

Civetti said the Tufts athletic department considered what opportunities they could have in interacting with his football players. The school is planning an in-person and online hybrid model.

“I think it’ll be all hands on deck for all of us,” Civetti said. “I’m sure there will be things on campus that they need people to help with. We’ll continue to recruit, and most importantly, continue to support our student-athletes in all phases of life.”

There are 11 schools in the NESCAC: Amherst, Bates, Bowdoin, Colby, Connecticut College, Hamilton, Middlebury, Trinity, Tufts, Wesleyan, and Williams.


The league said it has agreed to modify some of its rules to allow coaches and athletes to work together in practice and training sessions outside the traditional season, in compliance with the rules of each school and local health directives.

Greg Levinsky can be reached at greg.levinsky@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @GregLevinsky.