In Jan. 2021, the University Athletic Association (UAA) announced the cancellation of conference play for spring sports during the 2020-2021 season. With this news, the UAA will have not held any competition for the academic year, as fall and winter seasons were also canceled previously in response to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic that continues to run rampant across the United States.
Lauren Haynie, the Director of Athletics at Brandeis, sent an email to Brandeis student-athletes, coaches, staff and families shortly before the announcement was released from UAA themselves. She wrote, “while we are incredibly disappointed that we will not be able to participate in UAA competition for the entire academic year, the extensive travel required as a part of playing in our conference makes it challenging for us to develop a viable plan to move forward with a traditional spring sports schedule.”
The UAA includes eight private research institutions that are geographically diverse. These include Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Emory University in Atlanta, New York University in New York City, the University of Chicago, the University of Rochester and our own Brandeis University in Waltham. In order to play against these schools, participating universities often travel frequently by plane or bus, which is not advised by the CDC during the current pandemic.
Further, in the official statement from the UAA, the conference noted, “… it has remained clear that the following unresolved issues continue to have undue impact on the ability of member institutions to pursue competition within the UAA: Current institutional travel limitations; Local and state travel quarantine restrictions; Local restrictions on the size of group gatherings and hosting on-campus events; And contingency planning to provide care for individuals who test positive or become symptomatic while traveling.”
Thus, it has been concluded that the risks of intra-conference play, and the travel required to do so, exceed the UAA’s responsibility of preserving the health and safety of student-athletes and all of those involved in competition.
At Brandeis, Haynie and the Department of Athletics are committed to finding ways for student-athletes to safely engage in team-based opportunities throughout the semester. This includes restricted team practices that follow social distancing protocols, consistent mask wearing at all times, and opportunities to use the varsity weight room in small groups. In her message to the Brandeis Athletics community, Haynie highlights, “While we continue to follow guidance from the CDC, NCAA, State of Massachusetts and the university medical director, our ability to follow public health guidance and keep each other safe remains critical to our efforts.”
While collegiate athletics at other various levels—including Division I, Division II, NAIA and JUCO—are continuing with both travel and play, it remains clear that Brandeis Athletics, the UAA and Division III as a whole are prioritizing not only the health and safety of their student-athletes, coaches and staff, but also the larger communities in which we inhabit. This commitment now will hopefully allow for a smooth return to competition during the 2021-2022 calendar year.