CHARLESTON — The Mountain East Conference announced Tuesday that it will push back the start of fall sports competition to Oct. 1 and extend the conclusions of those fall seasons into the spring semester.
The MEC, an NCAA Division II conference that includes the University of Charleston and West Virginia State University among its members, also announced that the start of practice will be delayed until Sept. 7 for football and Sept. 14 for all other sports.
No contests in any sport will be held prior to Oct. 1, and games scheduled from Sept. 4 to Sept. 30 will be rescheduled for some time in the spring semester. Official dates will be announced later.
“This announcement of our adjusted plans demonstrates our commitment to the well-being of our student-athletes and campus communities, as well as our efforts to provide a meaningful experience for our student-athletes through competition this fall if public health conditions allow,” MEC Commissioner Reid Amos said via a news release. “These plans give us the necessary time and flexibility to consider resocialization on our campuses, as well as the public health implications specific to the geographic areas of our institutions while maintaining the health and safety of our student-athletes as our chief priority.”
Also, conference tournaments for men’s soccer, women’s soccer and volleyball will be moved to the spring semester. Meanwhile, conference tournaments in men’s and women’s golf, as well as men’s and women’s cross country, will stay in the fall, but will be delayed from original dates, with new dates to be announced.
As several other Division II conferences around the country have postponed competition completely until Jan. 1, 2021, Amos said that, with West Virginia and immediate surrounding areas not being hit quite as hard by the coronavirus, now is not the time to pull the plug on fall sports.
“A lot can happen over the next two, two-and-a-half months until we’re slated to start in October, but we were not prepared to wave the flag of surrender,” Amos said via Zoom meeting. “We want to do everything we can to provide a maximum opportunity for our student-athletes to compete.
“We very much believed, with conditions in our areas, that we have reason for hope. Rather than delaying any opportunity for competition until five-and-a-half months from now, we believe there’s a route where we could possibly have competition this fall.”
The new plan presents some uncertainty, because the NCAA has not yet approved moving Division II national championship tournament dates to the spring.
“With the increasing number of conferences that have elected to suspend until January, we’re anticipating the NCAA will delay those championships,” Amos said via Zoom meeting shortly after the announcement was made. “I’m a member of the NCAA Division II Championship Committee, and I still can’t make a solid prediction for you on the direction that fall championships are going to take because, ultimately, the possibility of them being delayed or canceled all together lies with the NCAA Board of Governors.
“We’re having to, as individual conferences, make the best decisions we can make [while] not yet knowing what the NCAA is going to do with its championships. What we have agreed on overwhelmingly as Division II commissioners is that this is a year in which extraordinary times will take some extraordinary measures. We’re going to focus the immediate priority on regular-season competition for our student-athletes and conference championships, and the hope is that, ultimately, fall championships will be delayed into the second semester.”
While things are still in flux, and Tuesday’s announcement brings more questions, most MEC members involved in fall sports are relieved to see the conference still planning to have fall athletics at all.
“I’m ecstatic, to begin with, that we have the opportunity to play some semblance of sports in the fall,” UC athletic director Bren Stevens said. “We love our student-athletes, and campus is so dead without them being here. The thought of them coming back and competing — and it will be tough, with all of the different parameters we will have to put on them to maintain safety — but to return to some semblance of normalcy; I’m so excited.”
“First and foremost, I’m excited to be able to play football,” UC coach Pat Kirkland echoed. “They’re making these decisions with the best interests and the well-being of the student-athletes, coaches, staff and training personnel [in mind], and they felt like this was the best scenario. I’m just excited. I like the team we have right now, and we are going to have an opportunity to play.”
MEC winter sports, such as men’s and women’s basketball, are still scheduled to begin competition in the fall semester under this adjusted plan, the conference’s release said.
In addition to UC and WVSU, the MEC includes eight other West Virginia-based schools — Alderson Broaddus University, Concord University, Davis & Elkins College, Fairmont State University, Glenville State College, West Liberty University, Wheeling University and West Virginia Wesleyan College. Other MEC members are Frostburg State University (Maryland) and Notre Dame College (Ohio).
UC’s football schedule included three September games: Sept. 10 at Fairmont State; Sept. 17 at home vs. Frostburg State; and Sept. 26 at home vs. Alderson Broaddus.
West Virginia State’s football schedule also included three September games: Sept. 10 at Frostburg State; Sept. 19 at home vs. Fairmont State; and Sept. 26 at home vs. Notre Dame.