HARRISONBURG, Va. – With more of an emphasis on the health and safety and student-athletes, personnel and campus environment, James Madison Athletics has announced the suspension of competition for all Fall sport programs. The suspension was made in coordination with other Colonial Athletic Association institutions that were previously still pursuing fall competition: College of Charleston, Elon and UNCW.
The Colonial Athletic Association announced the suspension of football on July 17, but left the door open for institutions to compete independent of league play. JMU initially elected to proceed with carrying out a plan to return-to-play in alignment with the NCAA championship calendar.
The NCAA Board of Governors issued updated guidance on August 5, including 1) measures for each division to make its own decisions on championships, 2) criteria for at least 50 percent of eligible institutions to compete in order to sponsor a championship, 3) no definitive decision on fall sport championships until August 21 and 4) establishing rigid return-to-sport medical protocol.
Statement from Director of Athletics Jeff Bourne:
From the onset, we stressed JMU’s preference to align with the NCAA’s championship calendar so long as medical and safety guidelines indicated that games would be possible. Our first priority has always been the health and well-being of everyone involved, while offering championship opportunities for our student-athletes within those parameters. As the national picture came into focus over the last week, it became clear that Fall competition would not be possible.
As a result of the NCAA’s guidance and decisions made by other conferences as the week progressed, multiple sports fell below the NCAA’s 50 percent threshold, while others may also be in jeopardy. Unfortunately, the NCAA left the door open for different scenarios where some championships may be possible while others are not. This made our evaluation process extremely complicated and difficult. Ultimately, we did not want to leave our sports in an on-going state of limbo, and our preference has always been for departmental operations to be aligned across all 18 programs.
As the NCAA issued updates to its return-to-sport requirements for sport competition, the expectations for testing and other necessary procedures kept increasing. JMU was prepared to meet these expectations, but at the same time, the cost was going to place a significant financial burden on the department. We anticipated that other peer institutions would also struggle with these costs, and that it would be extremely challenging to build competitive schedules across each of our sport programs as a result. We determined it was not prudent to continue operating in a continual uphill battle.
Finally, we also recognized that the situation had been placing our student-athletes in the difficult position of making independent decisions for their personal safety balanced with managing their NCAA eligibility. We wanted to assuage that burden and remove some of the uncertainty.
The good news is that our medical protocol was working. We tested 353 student-athletes and coaches across all sports beginning in early July with two asymptomatic positive cases. We were able to quarantine those individuals and an additional 15 student-athletes identified through contact tracing. All of those individuals safely returned to team activities upon expiration of their quarantine. We had no active, positive COVID-19 cases in our department at the time of sport suspension. As we transition into training mode as the academic semester begins, I’m encouraged by these results and the implications for maintaining safety on JMU’s campus. I commend Associate Athletic Director Tom Kuster, Team Physician Dr. Cameron Straughn and the entire integrated health and sport performance team for their diligent work in creating and maintaining a safe environment.
With this decision behind us, we shift gears and anticipate the return of all of our student-athletes as campus opens in late August. All of our teams will be in training in preparation for their seasons. At this time, our winter and spring sports remain on schedule, and we will be part of active exploration with national and conference peers regarding the ability to sponsor fall sport championship opportunities in the spring semester.
Hopefully, our nation can make thoughtful decisions in the best interest of the health and safety of all citizens. We call upon everyone to exhibit personal responsibility and be part of the solution to get past this pandemic. If we can do that, we’ll be back to sport competition in the near future.