UMass, Atlantic 10 working on contingency plans for fall athletic season

  • Warren P. McGuirk Alumni Stadium at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. Photographed on Saturday, Sept. 21, 2019. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • RYAN BAMFORD

Sports Editor
Published: 5/12/2020 1:42:45 PM

UMass and the Atlantic 10 Conference are making preparations for the fall athletic season.

How the season looks is unclear because much of what is decided depends on when and if students return to campus amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We’re certainly waiting to see what the institution decision is going to be on the fall semester,” UMass athletic director Ryan Bamford said recently. “That has a large impact on what we do athletically. Whether it’s working remotely, or bringing everybody back for classes or doing some hybrid of in between.”

Bamford said a decision on that could be made by July 1.

“The next 60 days are really going to teach us and inform us on any decision we make relative to the health and human safety concerns that the virus has created and what that means in making sure we can have an education environment that can support those types of things,” he said.

When the NCAA shut down in March, Atlantic 10 officials began thinking of the fall athletic season.

“We are looking at a series of plans,” Atlantic 10 Commissioner Bernadette McGlade said on a conference call with reporters last month. “If we can’t start on time — if there is a delay on getting back to campuses — we’re looking at what that does to the first part of the calendar of the fall schedules, and how that would impact condensing the schedule.”

The Atlantic 10 is considering several ideas:

■Reducing the conference schedule while maintaining the integrity of a regular season.

■Limiting travel, flights.

■Partnering with neighboring conferences for regional competitions and/or filling out schedules.

■If NCAA championships are intact, but there is a loss of a conference tournament, the regular season champion earns the automatic bid.

■The top four teams in regular season advance to a shortened conference tournament.

■In the event the season gets canceled, can the fall season overlap with spring?

“From a contingency standpoint we feel we need to keep everything on the table and up for discussion,” McGlade said.

Bamford said he hopes the athletic seasons can take place when they should, but he understands the need to be flexible. With separate facilities for fall and spring sports, UMass is in a better position to potentially overlap the two seasons if it came down to that option.

“Obviously we’d like them to fit into the seasons that they are built for. If that opportunity doesn’t exist because of COVID-19, then there are a lot of creative minds and structures and a lot of thought to potentially doing things a little bit differently to ensure the seasons do get played and we don’t get ourselves in a situation like we did this past spring where we have to cancel a season and provide an extra year of eligibility. That’s not a good formula for moving forward, so any opportunity to get these games played — ideally in the season they are constituted for, but if not we can be creative and pivot to alternative seasons — we’ll certainly do that.”

Bamford has been in contact with officials from neighboring conferences in the event schedules get changed. That means UMass could play schools such as UMass-Lowell, Northeastern, Boston University, Boston College, Holy Cross, UConn, etc. in varying sports.

“It certainly makes sense for us to try and build our schedules so that they are within driving distance,” Bamford said. “Depending on what happens in the A-10 and what decisions we make at that level minimizing flights, and try and minimize travel that requires hotel stays, for obvious health reasons but also for fiscal responsibility during this time, and making sure that we want to still play these games.”

McGlade said the conference will not rush into making decisions.

“We have several pathways, several contingency plans that we’re trying to cover all the bases,” she said. “To try to start to do that once everything opens up, you’re going to be in a crises mode again and that’s the one thing we don’t want to be in — in a crises mode. When decisions are made, we want to be able to say, OK, we’ve got A, B, and C still in play. You know what, D and E are off the table because they’re no longer relevant. That’s a peace of mind that is valuable for the league.”

Football

As an independent program, UMass is in a unique position when it comes to the season.

“Football is a little bit of an outlier for us,” Bamford said “There are so many inputs to that decision. We are dealing with 12 different opponents and 12 different situations. Some of those are other independents so we are getting in alignment with them. There’s been a lot of talk about what the season is going to look like. We’ve put together a whole host of different models around what our opportunities — to pivot if we need to — would look like and what we think we can do.”

UMass is scheduled to open at UConn on Sept. 3. Its remaining opponents are: Troy (Sept. 12); Albany (Sept. 19); at Appalachian State (Sept 26); at New Mexico (Oct. 3); Temple (Oct. 10); at Akron (Oct. 17); FIU (Oct. 24); New Mexico State (Nov. 7); at Auburn (Nov. 14); Army (Nov. 21); at Liberty (Nov. 28).

“So much of it is depending on when the season gets played and what our opponents that are in leagues are deciding to do,” Bamford said. “Are they going to only play conference games, or are they thinking about still playing a nonconference schedule? We have to be ready for anything to be thrown at us. I think we are. I think we’re well positioned to be able to try to play games at some point during the next academic year.”

UMass will receive a record $1.9 million when it plays at Auburn. If the game gets canceled, moving it to another season gets complicated.

“Our football schedule is set for at least the next four falls, so we wouldn’t be able to just move a game to another date unless it was well into the future,” Bamford said. “Our intent, our goal is to get that game, as well as the other 11, all played.”

Each football game has different contractual obligations associated with them, according to Bamford. Should games get canceled, there is language in each contract that allow teams to avoid any financial penalties associated with the loss of the game.

“Everybody’s in the same boat, so we’re just trying to deal with it together as an industry,” Bamford said. “I trust that all of my colleagues that are sitting in the AD chair across Division I will make good determinations and work in good faith to be good partners in either rescheduling these games or canceling, and trying to make sure that all the parties are impacted similarly.”

Mike Moran can be reached at mmoran@gazettenet.com. Follow on Twitter @mikemoranDHG.


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