NEW BRITAIN — The Central Connecticut State football team won’t get a chance to defend its Northeast Conference title. Neither will the school’s women’s soccer or cross country teams. At least, not yet.
None of CCSU’s fall sports programs — which also includes men’s soccer and cross country, and women’s volleyball — will take the field or the court anytime soon.
The NEC announced on Wednesday it was postponing all fall sports and championships due to the coronavirus pandemic. The conference’s Council of Presidents will then reconvene by Oct. 1 to evaluate the public health crisis and the NEC’s competitive options.
“Our presidents reached the point where they had to make that decision and say, ‘OK let’s postpone the fall for now,’” CCSU Interim Athletic Director Tom Pincince told The Herald. “You have to think about the student-athletes and they’re sitting there waiting and wondering what’s going to happen and I think we owe it to them to make this decision and give them at least some clarity to where we are at this point.”
The NEC is the fifth Division I conference to suspend fall sports, joining the Colonial Athletic Association, Ivy League, Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference, Patriot League and Southwestern Athletic Conference. The Big Ten, Pac-12 and Pioneer Football League have moved to conference-only competition.
CCSU was supposed to play a number of schools across the conferences who already suspended play. The football team was scheduled to play at Columbia on Oct. 10. The men’s soccer team was to play Hartford and Manhattan on Sept. 16 and Sept. 19, respectively, and then host Brown on Nov. 3. The women’s soccer team was to host St. John’s on Sept. 13.
“We looked at everything and that was certainly one of the options,” Pincince said of the NEC playing in conference only. “But I think in the end, it was just about whether we could do it safely and make sure we had a safe environment. And we believe at the current time, this is the best move for the conference, to postpone the fall.”
On July 9, the NEC had initially set a start date of Sept. 10 for both conference and non-conference competition with football programs being permitted to play non-conference games prior to Sept. 10 based on institutional discretion. But in order to play those non-conference games, NEC institutions originally had to confirm non-conference opponents have instituted similar health and safety protocols prior to competition. Associate members —the conference has three for the fall: Duquesne (football & women's bowling), Fairfield (field hockey), Rider (field hockey) — also had to defer to full member conference regulations. Overnight travel had to be reduced when possible as well.
Connecticut currently has a 14-day quarantine period for anyone traveling from Alaska, Alabama, Arkansas, Arizona, California, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Iowa, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Minnesota, Missouri, Mississippi, Montana, North Carolina, North Dakota, Nebraska, New Mexico, Nevada, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Virginia, Washington and Wisconsin, as well as Washington, D.C. and Puerto Rico.
“It’s been a continually evolving situation to make the best decision for our student-athletes at that time,” Pincince said. “Earlier in the month, we were taking a look and seeing what was happening and still assessing everything. At this point, the presidents have decided it was best to postpone the fall competition.”
Pincince said he plans to have a virtual town hall for the student-athletes to answer any kind of questions they may have about the current situation. He met with the football program after the announcement was made on Wednesday.
“There were questions asked, but there were a lot of questions that I couldn’t answer because I don’t think anyone really knows what this is and what it’s going to be,” football head coach Ryan McCarthy said. “But I said, ‘Here’s the deal. When we come back we’re going to get in the weight room, we’re going to go back to square one and treat the fall like the spring because we lost the spring and work on fundamentals and technique. It stinks to not play, but the health and safety of our guys is a top priority.”
CCSU’s football team went a school-record 11-2 in 2019 and won the conference title for the second time in three seasons. It’s only losses were to Division I FBS-member Eastern Michigan and Albany in the first round of the FCS playoffs.
The women’s soccer team 13-5-4 with a 1-0 win over Rutgers in the first round of the NCAA Tournament, the program’s second-ever victory in the tournament. The Blue Devils then lost to West Virginia in the next round, 1-0, in double overtime. CCSU was coming off back-to-back NEC championships after beating Fairleigh Dickinson in the conference title game.
Women’s cross country captured its second straight NEC championship last fall and had four finishers in the top 14. Junior Angie Rafter was named the 2019 NEC Most Outstanding Performer for the second time, while rookie Brooke Morabito was named the 2019 NEC Freshman of the Year.
The men’s cross country team placed second at the NEC Championships last year, while the volleyball team finished at the runner-up in its NEC Tournament. The men’s soccer team finished 1-13-1 in 2019 and will have a new head coach this year.
Teams will still be able to hold practices when the campus reopens in the fall, but safety and health protocols will be put in place such as wearing masks, limiting the amount of student-athletes working out in the same place at one time and holding virtual team meetings among others.
But from now until Oct. 1, it will just be a wait-and-see approach.
“It’s uncharted waters for sure,” McCarthy said. “Everyone is dealing with the same thing. The FBS people are going to try to play and I hope it works out for them, I really do. We don’t have the resources to do that. We’re going to wait and see. We really have to get this thing under control because if we don’t, then we won’t have a season. But we have to protect our kids from a health standpoint.”
David Glovach can be reached at (860) 801-5085 or firstname.lastname@example.org