What the Patriot League’s recent press release tells us about collegiate athletics and COVID-19

By: Ethan Fuller

For the first time since all college sports were stonewalled in mid-March, the Patriot League has addressed how the conference will move forward with athletics in 2020.

It’s not much — only an announcement of “principles” from the league’s Council of Presidents — and no official scheduling has been published. But the Patriot League’s guidelines for a return tell us about what fall sports might look like. These principles will undoubtedly have a similar effect on winter sports as well.

The league included four key points of emphasis. The most notable tidbit, and the one that should replicate itself in conferences around the country, is that “no Patriot League teams will fly to competitions and, with rare exceptions, regular-season competition will exclude overnight travel.”

This essentially relegates all Patriot League competition to the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic region, which will seriously alter the non-conference plans for each team and each sport. Boston University field hockey, for example, tested its strength early with a contest against no. 14 Ohio State last season. That won’t be possible under these guidelines.

With the pool of prospective opponents so much smaller, every team in the region will have to navigate through some difficult scheduling. Perhaps the Terriers face off against their Massachusetts rivals multiple times in a single year. Or, perhaps Division II and III squads find more opportunities to square off against Division I teams.

The daunting challenge will be the NCAA Tournament. Only one Patriot League program from each team will be in the field, but the regional bubbles would have to pop for any sort of national tournament. The NCAA has not mentioned any plans yet, so it’s likely the league is waiting on them for a direction.

Thinking down the line (as I am the beat writer for both basketball teams), BU could have very different non-conference slates compared to 2019. Cancun Challenge-like tournaments would be out the window, as would a California road trip similar to the women’s November schedule.

In contrast, staying local will still give the Terriers access to many of their traditional foes such as UMass Lowell, Northeastern, Vermont and New Hampshire. Other high-major squads could also be on the table; the men’s team has not played BC in nearly a decade, and a potential matchup against UConn would be an entertaining addition for either roster. Of course, this is all speculation — but the ideas are tantalizing.

Another important note is that the fall non-conference schedule will not start prior to September 4, which is 1-2 weeks earlier for most schools. BU’s soccer teams kicked off on August 20 and 22 of 2019, while field hockey started on August 31.

The gap seems to be made up in another one of the league’s points. Conference play will start “at the end of September, with the expectation that League play will be completed prior to Thanksgiving.”

When the schedule normally finishes up by the end of October, this change will be tougher to implement due to a possible overlap with the start of winter sports. Plus, who knows how the school calendar even works out by Thanksgiving?

While a lot is left unanswered, we do finally have a snapshot of collegiate athletics in the fall. Hopefully a concrete plan is in the works as we near the halfway mark of college’s (usual) summer break.

To read the league’s full statement, click here.



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