With COVID-19 numbers again on the rise, William & Mary on Friday took the unprecedented step of postponing its fall athletic season.
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Which means that for the first time since 1943, in the middle of World War II, W&M will not have a football season — at least during its traditional months. Also shelved for the fall will be field hockey, volleyball, soccer, and cross country.
"Providing an environment that ensures the greatest opportunity for academic instruction to occur for all students is paramount," W&M Director of Athletics Samantha K. Huge said. "Thus, the university's philosophy for the fall is to radically limit visitors to campus — and that includes visiting athletic teams.
"While we are heartbroken for the student-athletes and their families impacted, we have been thoughtful and deliberate in our discussions and decision. It is our hope and intention that if conditions safely permit, sports could be played in the winter and spring and we will evaluate the options in the months ahead."
Tribe athletes will remain on scholarship and continue to have access to academic support as well as health services.
Also Friday, in what was a moot point for William & Mary, the Colonial Athletic Association became the fourth conference at the Championship Subdivision level to postpone its football season. The CAA expressed "a strong commitment" to exploring the possibility of playing in the spring of 2021.
"I commend the board of directors for their forward thinking and open-mindedness when dealing with the uncertain and complex moment that we find ourselves in," CAA commissioner Joe D'Antonio said in a release.
Although he was hoping to capitalize on the momentum from last season, Tribe football coach Mike London expressed his understanding of the big picture.
"You can say 'we have to play football,' but how will it affect the testing not only within our school but in the area?" he said. "There's so many other things that are a domino effect that go into (whether) you have a season or not.
"I'd rather be safe beyond measure. There probably are going to be a lot of people who are upset about this, but that's first and foremost to me."
W&M's coaches were informed of the decision Thursday night.
"The reality is, anytime you get into a situation like this, a tough decision is going to be required by leadership," volleyball coach Tim Doyle said. "It's better to make the hard, right decision and do it early enough that people can prepare.
"The well-being of our kids is first and foremost. The logistical and infrastructure hurdles that COVID presents, and potentially jeopardizing the health of our student athletes, is of a magnitude that we haven't seen. Although it's tough, that's what leadership requires sometimes."
Women's soccer coach Julie Shackford also agreed with the decision.
"We're all in this to ensure that student-athletes have an unbelievable experience over their four years," she said. "And during the pandemic, we have to be able to ensure their health and safety. The decision-making took so many factors into consideration.
"It's so surreal. You think you're prepared for it, but it's still going to hit people really hard. I worry about the anxiety and stress of the student athletes and how we're all going to deal with this."
Men's soccer coach Chris Norris said he expected all along that fall sports would be moved and hopes they can be salvaged in the spring.
"I think it's the right choice for now," he said. "I just hope that nationally, more people make good decisions on this thing. It's really important that we try to come up with a plan that attempts to give our fall-sports kids the best opportunity for a meaningful student-athlete experience this year.
"Right now, to me, trying to have a competitive season in the spring makes the most sense. Of course, it presents challenges to the universities because of the congestion of scheduling, but there are a lot of smart people out there who can come up with good solutions to those challenges."