Patriot League shuts down fall sports, spares women’s basketball for now

Head coaches highlight the challenge and uncertainty of coaching through a contagion as the season approaches

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The Patriot League will not compete in fall sports due to the coronavirus pandemic but left open the possibility for winter and spring programs to move forward on schedule.

In a Monday press release, the league stated: “Patriot League teams will not engage in competition in the fall season.” However, it provided a pathway for all teams to train: “The opportunity for conditioning, strength training and other practice opportunities in all sports will be permitted provided health and safety conditions support such activities.”  

What does this mean for women’s basketball? Perhaps not full steam ahead, but it does suggest that league administrators are willing to take a wait-and-see approach before making a final decision about any potential changes to a full winter slate.

Right now, it also means teams can move forward with plans for individual work-outs, conditioning and weightlifting when students return to campus next month—provided appropriate protocols can support the activity and state regulations are followed. Currently, all Patriot schools are scheduled to welcome students back to campus for in-person instruction.

The announcement follows the Ivy League’s decision to cancel fall sports and postpone winter sports until January 1st at the earliest—a move the Council of Presidents for the Patriot League may still make. League sources confirm that the decision regarding winter sports will come in late September.

In the interim, coaches around the league are preparing for the season in the unpredictable world of the pandemic and the uncertainty it brings. Trevor Woodruff guided the Bucknell Bison to a regular-season championship last season in his first year as head coach but may find a tougher challenge in his second campaign.

“COVID-19 has turned everything upside down in terms of there being a lack of clarity,” Woodruff told The Next. “There’s no definite anymore. Everything is basically day to day.”

Colgate head coach Bill Cleary’s usual pre-season excitement is also tempered by the challenges of living in a new normal. The anxiety surrounding the coronavirus and its impact for both student-athletes and coaches is tangible.

“We’re in a situation right now where everything is so fluid,” Cleary said. “The mental health of our student-athletes is going to be the focus when they return to campus because they are living a new normal in so many ways.”

Woodruff echoes the view. “It probably goes to the top of the list in terms of day to day priorities and just making sure everybody is emotionally, mentally, spiritually well,” Woodruff said. “The unknown and unexpected really add a lot of anxiety.”

The good news for coaches and players around the conference is that the season is currently scheduled to move forward—and that’s a positive step toward some sense of normalcy on campuses and courts across the Patriot League.

For the Colgate Raiders, Monday’s press release provided some much-needed enthusiasm and hope among players.

“We talked to our players and they are excited to play,” said Cleary, who led the team to a 19-11 season last year—the second-most wins in program history. “They want to build off of last season. But in the same breath, they understand that there are other priorities. We're going to do whatever the school needs us to do in order to make that happen. The players are taking a very mature approach.”

Tegan Graham. Credit: Colgate Athletic Communications

Will the virus be controlled enough in two months to allow for a safe environment so student-athletes and staff can have a full season?

While some doubt hangs over the coming season, Woodruff remains resolute about meeting the need to adapt to any outcome for the student-athletes: “There will be challenges in dealing with COVID-19 if we come back, and I see challenges in dealing with the mental and emotional toll if we don’t come back.”