North Coast Athletic Conference cancels conference play for winter season

Wittenberg coach Matt Croci talks at practice on Tuesday, Nov. 8, 2017, at Pam Evans Smith Arena in Springfield. David Jablonski/Staff

The North Coast Athletic Conference announced the cancellation of conference play, including conference tournaments, in winter sports on Friday. That news affects the men’s and women’s basketball and swimming and diving and indoor track teams at Wittenberg.

It’s the second straight season disrupted by the coronavirus pandemic for the the Wittenberg men’s basketball team, which saw its season end in the Sweet 16 of the NCAA tournament last season when sports across the country came to a halt March 12.

While NCAC schools can make their own decisions about whether they pursue opportunities to play outside the conference in the winter, Wittenberg men’s basketball coach Matt Croci said it was too early to tell if his program would do that but he was not hopeful because other conferences have chosen to play only conference schedules. There would be few chances for Wittenberg to play if it decided to do that.

According to a press release, “Wittenberg has not made a decision regarding winter sports competition at this time.”

The New England Small College Athletic Conference made the same decision as the NCAC on Oct. 8. They are the first two Division III conferences to cancel winter sports.

Here’s the full text of the NCAC’s press release:

"Over the last several months, North Coast Athletic Conference members have been focused on the safe reopening of our campuses this fall. All continue to focus on the evolving challenges to our communities presented by the COVID-19 pandemic.

"In keeping with public health guidance, members have maintained universal masking and physical distancing protocols, limits on travel on and off campus, and limits on the size of on-campus gatherings, as well as contact tracing, quarantine and isolation protocols. Additionally, many of our institutions have made, or are considering, significant modifications to the 2020-21 academic calendar. As a result, many of our students will not return to campus for the spring semester until late January or early February.

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"Consistent with these policies, and the significant impact of the timing of students' return, the NCAC Presidents' Council has decided unanimously, though with great reluctance, to cancel conference play, including conference championships, for the winter season. Institutions may make individual decisions regarding outside competition during the winter season.

"Additionally, all NCAC institutions will not return student-athletes to campus for practices or other athletically related activity between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day.

“The NCAC will continue to explore all options and plan for a safe return to intercollegiate competition, with the health and well-being of students, faculty, staff, and our broader communities our foremost concern. As the pandemic evolves, we will continue to monitor changing federal, state, and local guidance, and we will consult with each other as well as public health authorities and the NCAA as we plan for our eventual return to conference competition.”

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