Canisius coaches react to MAAC cancelling fall sports

The Demske Sports Complex will remain empty until the spring after the MAAC made the decision to cancel fall sports. Photo by Adam Gorski.

For the second time in the past four and a half months, the MAAC and its Council of Presidents made an announcement canceling a season. On Monday, they canceled fall sports due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. 

This was a situation that had been developing nearly the entire summer following the canceling of spring sports on March 12. On June 29, the league announced that they would push back the start date until Sept. 11 and that fall athletes and basketball players would not be allowed to return to campus during the months of June and July for offseason workouts. For now, it is unclear what is in store for the winter season.

The league noted that it will look into the possibility of playing the fall sports season in the spring, and that is a decision that will be made by the 11 league presidents at a later date.

On July 15, the league announced they would be playing conference games only, and again pushed back the start dates for men’s and women’s soccer as well as volleyball. That all led up to Monday’s announcement that the league is ending the fall season before it begins, and four days after Canisius athletic director Bill Maher told The Griffin that he believed that there was a “greater than 50% chance” that the league would not play. 

“While this decision is disappointing for our student-athletes, coaches and staff, I understand the challenges we face and fully support the decision of the Council. The health and safety of our campus communities are the overriding factor for the Council of Presidents and their decisions are always made with that in mind. We must now pivot and work to provide training development for all of our student-athletes as they return to campus in the next few weeks,” Maher said in a statement. “The goal is to find a path forward to award these championships in the spring of 2021.”

The MAAC becomes the sixth Division I conference to cancel fall sports, following the Ivy League, Patriot League, CAA, MEAC and SWAC. The MAAC is the first non-football league to cancel for the fall.

“The decision to cancel fall sports was made with student-athletes being top of mind. It is difficult to put into words how I feel for all of the student-athletes, coaches and administrators who put in so much work on a daily basis. Health and safety protocols have been the utmost priority the past several months, but unfortunately, there are too many factors that prohibit the MAAC and its institutions from safely delivering a competitive atmosphere that these individuals deserve,” league commissioner Rich Ensor said in a statement.

For the fall teams at Canisius, the announcement was a disappointment, but not a big surprise. 

“I don’t think I was surprised today and neither was my team, because I’ve been kind of keeping them up to date on what I thought was going to happen and so the message that was sent out to my players this morning was, ‘okay, it’s what we expected,’” men’s soccer head coach Dermot McGrane said.

“We kind of saw the writing on the wall, we knew it was coming with some of the other conferences and some of the other things we see trending through the past few weeks but anytime it gets put in that finalized decision from the MAAC Council of Presidents, it’s like ‘okay, it’s actually happening,’” women’s rowing head coach Kerri Brace said.

“I think that most of the fall sports could see this coming, even way back in the spring. We knew there wasn’t going to be a vaccine at this point in time. Everyone had the best intentions and everybody was optimistic going through the summer but it was definitely not a shock to see the fall seasons canceled,” cross country head coach Nate Huckle said.

The situations for the women’s rowing and cross country teams are similar but unique to both soccer teams as well as volleyball due to the fact that they both had their spring seasons canceled as well, so this is the second time they are going through this and by the time it is all said and done, will have gone approximately a year between competitions.

“I kind of feel like we have a pulse on it now for how to handle it, where some of these student-athletes (that are) having it taken away from them, it’s tough and it’s going to be tough to navigate,” Brace said.

Earlier in this process, the MAAC had put out protocols on how to play games in a safe manner, including health screenings, contact tracing and testing of anyone who develops symptoms of COVID-19 or has a fever, but the belief was that it would cause too many challenges, both with health and also with budget restrictions. Requirements from the NCAA include mandatory testing and results within 72 hours of “high contact risk sports.”

“When we started going into the NCAA requirements in terms of actual testing, the costs increase dramatically,” McGrane said.

“It sounds good, but it’s not perfect. I think if we didn’t see the recent resurgence with the southern states and a lot of other states, we might be trying that out, but it’s just too risky at this point,” Huckle said.

While there will be no competition for the fall, teams are allowed to train and practice to the levels that state and local levels allow. All three coaches are planning on starting practicing in small groups and hopefully transitioning to larger groups as the fall progresses.

“After having missed out on all of last spring’s water time, we hadn’t seen the water since Halloween last year and we haven’t been on the water since. Absolutely, we will get on the water,” Brace said.

McGrane said, “The coaches, the administrators, we all understand that this is a challenging time and we’ve all got to be a team player.”

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