NESCAC presidents announce limited spring sports season

Williams opts in to competition, but with no spectators

Joey Fox

The presidents of NESCAC institutions announced in a statement yesterday that the athletic conference will hold a limited spring sports season from mid-April until mid-May. The statement said that intercollegiate competition will occur, but that each individual institution in the conference may choose to opt out; so far, every NESCAC school but Bowdoin plans to compete in the conference.

The teams that the statement explicitly cleared to compete are baseball, softball, golf, lacrosse, rowing, tennis, and track and field.

Soon after the statement was released, Vice President for Finance & Administration and Treasurer Fred Puddester declared in an all-campus email that the College would opt in to the spring season, albeit with no spectators allowed at games. “We want to announce that Williams will participate, within the context of a broader plan that provides safe travel opportunities for academic and student activities-related travel broadly,” he wrote.

The NESCAC’s announcement comes after three consecutive NESCAC seasons — spring 2020, fall 2020, and winter 2020-2021 — were canceled due to COVID-19. Though practices have continued throughout this semester and the last, no Williams athlete has competed in an intercollegiate event in nearly a year.

In January and February, many NESCAC athletes and parents called for a resumption of sports for the spring season, arguing in a petition that “NESCAC students proved [last fall] that they could return to campus, the classroom, and the practice field safely and responsibly. They should be afforded the opportunity to prove that they can return to athletic competition in the same manner.”

On Jan. 28, as the petition was circulating, the NESCAC presidents released a statement saying that “conditions will need to improve significantly in order to conduct conference competition this spring.” It was the last formal communication the NESCAC provided on the spring season before yesterday’s announcement.

At Williams, the recent large gathering at Wood House and subsequent investigation may complicate the spring athletic season. To date, 127 students have been transitioned to remote learning as a result of the party; a significant number of them were student-athletes.

Associate Director for Student Athlete Services Carolyn Miles said, however, that no spring teams lost so many players that they will be unable to compete. “Currently, all spring sports have enough athletes [on campus] to compete if that becomes possible,” she told the Record prior to the NESCAC’s announcement. “[Moreover], just as remote athletes were able to join team Zooms for meetings and educational sessions in the fall, anyone remote this spring will be given the same opportunity.”

NESCAC statement lays out COVID guidelines 

In addition to limiting the length of the spring season, the NESCAC presidents’ statement noted that the conference will take steps to make the spring season as safe as possible, though it provided few specifics.

“To protect the wellbeing of our students, staff, faculty, and broader communities, the NESCAC Athletic Directors, working with medical personnel and other experts, have developed comprehensive health and safety protocols for spring competition,” the statement read. “These protocols exceed NCAA [National Collegiate Athletic Association] guidance and complement the robust COVID-19 testing already taking place on NESCAC campuses.”

The statement also noted that spectators at events will be limited to those in the host institution’s testing program. Williams, however, will go even further, prohibiting spectators of any kind from attending any NESCAC event, including home games.

As with many previous COVID-era announcements, the NESCAC statement said that the evolving public health situation may still lead to further changes. “The Presidents and the Conference will continue to monitor the progress of the pandemic and respond as needed to regulatory changes at the federal, state, and local levels, as well as to any shifts in medical guidance or best practices,” it read. 

Administration to permit College-sponsored travel in mid-April

In his email announcing that Williams would compete in the NESCAC’s spring season, Puddester also wrote that non-athletic off-campus trips would be allowed beginning in mid-April, provided that they are sponsored by the College. Any academic or student-activity travel will obey the same restrictions as athletic travel and will be required to request permission from the College in advance.

“Requirements will include participation in the campus Covid testing program and rapid antigen testing on the day of travel; traveling directly to the approved venue without stops; wearing masks at all times during the trip, including during competition; with all activities held outdoors unless otherwise authorized; and no spectators or guests,” Puddester wrote.

He also clarified that this announcement does not pertain to personal off-campus trips, such as running errands along the Rte. 2 corridor. “The process for those trips will be shared as part of Phase 2 of the campus reopening, currently scheduled to begin next Monday, March 15,” he wrote.

Like the NESCAC presidents’ statement, Puddester included a disclaimer that the possibility of off-campus travel is contingent upon the severity of the pandemic. “Please understand, too, that our plan is just a plan,” he wrote. “We will need to continue reviewing the public health outlook, and if the situation worsens we will reevaluate and may need to hit pause.”

This is a developing story. As more details become available, the Record will continue to report on spring sports and the NESCAC’s announcement in the coming weeks.