UConn, Sacred Heart, CCSU: Adding last-minute games against Yale would be possible but complicated
Although Ivy League spring competition is canceled this year, teams can potentially compete in local, nonconference games if pandemic conditions “substantially improve” and teams reach Phase IV. Quinnipiac and Fairfield expressed doubt about any possibility of scheduling late spring games against the Bulldogs, while UConn, Sacred Heart and CCSU said it might be possible.
Even as a hint of spring weather reaches New Haven, Yale’s spring-sport varsity teams are not competing in the Ivy League this semester and are instead practicing on a limited basis in Phase I of the Ivy League’s tiered approach to athletic activity. But local, nonconference competition remains a distant possibility for later in the semester.
Although the Ivy League canceled spring league competition and championships on Feb. 18, the conference’s announcement indicated that Ancient Eight teams could potentially compete in local, nonconference games late in the spring if pandemic conditions “substantially improve.” Yale Athletics would need to progress to Phase IV by the end of the semester if certain teams hope to compete on a limited basis — the department reached Phase II for six days last semester and has spent the rest of the year in Phase 0 or Phase I. While any discussion around local spring competition remains hypothetical, athletic directors and communications staff at other Division I universities in Connecticut spoke to the News about whether or not adding late games against some of Yale’s spring teams would be possible later this semester.
While the University of Connecticut, Sacred Heart and Central Connecticut State said they are generally open to potentially scheduling Yale teams under the right circumstances and conditions, Quinnipiac and Fairfield expressed doubt about any possibility of scheduling spring games against the Bulldogs.
“I think if everything worked out and all the guidelines our teams need to follow, and the guidelines Yale will have, are met, I could see games potentially happening,” Jeff Mead, athletics communications assistant at Central Connecticut State, said. “I don’t have a great deal of knowledge about how likely adding games would be, but it is certainly possible in my view.”
Mead, who has been working at CCSU for six years, explained that their Blue Devils have a Northeast Conference schedule with the opportunity to additionally play nonconference opponents.
Some of CCSU’s fall-sport teams, who are playing this spring after having seasons canceled in the fall, are playing only Northeast Conference opponents, while spring-sport teams have more flexibility in crafting their schedules, Mead said. He told the News that conference and institutional athletic administrators, the NEC Sport Management Committee, NEC COVID-19 Medical Advisory Committee and the NEC Council of Presidents heavily discussed testing protocols and safe ways of conducting competition.
“I think there would be a number of considerations taken about whether or not playing against Yale would happen,” Mead said. “Our competing spring sports would need to see if they have openings on their schedule and if it would make sense for them. … With timing of testing of student-athletes and staff, along with the opponents and umpires [and] referees and those results coming back to consider, the discussions are not as easy as they usually might be.”
UConn’s Associate Director of Athletics for Athletic Communications Patrick McKenna shared a similar sentiment.
McKenna said that UConn, like CCSU, is competing in all fall and spring sports with the exception of football. While their opponents are mainly from the Big East Conference, many of their teams have decided to schedule nonconference games against teams in the region as well.
“COVID has made planning difficult because a game can get postponed or canceled at any time but there was very little discussion on if we should compete or not,” McKenna wrote in an email to the News. “Tough to answer hypotheticals, but I can’t see why we wouldn’t be willing to play an in-state opponent like Yale in some sports.”
McKenna described how adding games in-season is normal, especially in softball and baseball, because of weather cancellations, so scheduling last-minute competitions versus Yale in the future would be possible.
Sacred Heart’s Director of Athletic Communications and Marketing Michael Smoose also said that for the most part, once schedules are set, there “isn’t much variance,” but there is still a possibility of competition with Yale. He added that Sacred Heart finalized spring schedules in late January 2021, as opposed to the previous fall, which is the timeline for a normal season.
“It’s certainly possible, but it would be tough to make happen,” Smoose said. “We’d have to have a cancellation that lined up with an available window for Yale and make sure the testing schedule lined up.”
All of Sacred Heart’s 33 Division I teams are competing this year. The fall sports are playing an abbreviated season primarily with conference games versus NEC schools, and the spring teams are playing a few more nonconference games than their fall counterparts, Smoose told the News.
Although Smoose said that scheduling games has involved many moving parts due to shared facilities and testing protocols, in addition to the many conversations about spring competition with the NEC and local and state officials, the ultimate decision of whether or not to play Yale is up to individual coaches.
By contrast, representatives Fairfield and Quinnipiac told the News that scheduling competition against Yale later this semester is improbable, citing the lack of nonconference games or an inflexible play schedule.
Fairfield’s Associate Director of Athletics for Communications and Content Strategy Drew Kingsley said that it is unlikely that there will be any Fairfield-Yale competition this year.
“The Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference is only competing in conference games this spring, so the majority of our athletic programs will not be permitted to schedule games against Yale,” Kingsley said. “Our teams that are permitted to play nonconference games — field hockey and men’s lacrosse — are not currently looking to add to their schedules.”
Because Fairfield’s conference schedules for each sport were finalized in December and January and because Kingsley said it is not typical for Fairfield to add games after the start of the season, he does not anticipate any Stags teams adding nonconference games this spring “against Yale or anybody else.”
Nick Sczerbinski, associate athletic director of athletic communications at Quinnipiac, expressed similar doubt about scheduling any spring competition against Yale, mentioning that Quinnipiac’s fall and spring sports are only competing against conference opponents this season. Quinnipiac and Fairfield are both in the MAAC, while its field hockey team joined the Big East Conference in 2016 and both of their ice hockey teams play in the ECAC. Because of restrictions put in place by the MAAC and the difficulties of aligning schools’ testing schedules and protocols, the majority of their games will remain conference-only.
Tim Bennett, assistant director for strategic communications at Yale Athletics, reiterated Yale’s commitment to the Ivy League’s phased guidelines.
Bennett told the News that Yale finalizes its spring schedules during the previous fall in a normal year, but that the spring season typically features greater flexibility when it comes to scheduling — mostly due to New England weather.
“It is not uncommon for games to be rescheduled, canceled or added,” Bennett said. “Baseball and softball are generally the sports most affected by the weather.”
Yale teams entered Phase I on Feb. 15.
Amelia Lower | firstname.lastname@example.org