TROY — The RPI men’s hockey team has home-ice advantage for this weekend’s ECAC Hockey Tournament best-of-three quarterfinal series against Harvard.
But there won’t be any cheering from the crowd, or the singing of the alma mater during the second intermission.
The college announced Sunday that the Engineers and Crimson will play their games without fans in the stands because of concerns related to COVID-19; RPI cited the two confirmed cases of the coronavirus in the Capital Region.
“The university has been working over the past several days to come up with protocol and policies for a pandemic situation,” RPI athletic director Lee McElroy said in a press conference Sunday afternoon at Houston Field House. “What led to the decision with regard to the ECAC quarterfinals were the two confirmed cases of coronavirus that were reported [Saturday] at 10 a.m.”
This is not the first time that a Capital Region team has had to play a game in an empty arena. In 1989, the Siena men’s basketball team had to play a game against Hartford at Alumni Recreation Hall because of a measles outbreak on campus.
McElroy said that a scheduled trip to California for the RPI men’s and women’s tennis teams this past week was canceled. The Engineers’ baseball and softball teams did make their trips to Florida. The men’s and women’s lacrosse teams have games Tuesday against DeSales University in Bluffington, South Carolina.
“We’re watching it very closely as we move forward,” McElroy said.
ECACH commissioner Steve Hagwell issued a statement, saying, “We understand and respect RPI’s decision to conduct the men’s quarterfinals series versus Harvard with the caveat that fans and/or visitors will be prohibited from attending the contests.”
On Friday, the NCAA COVID-19 Advisory Panel tweeted a statement, saying the panel is not recommending cancellation or public spacing of athletic and related events scheduled to occur in public spaces across the United States.
“The NCAA has not been very clear,” McElroy said. “That statement is ambiguous.”
Besides RPI, the rest of the area sports scene is monitoring the growing concerns related to COVID-19, but are planning — for now, at least — to carry on both with their contests and allowing fans to watch them.
Saratoga Springs High School is scheduled to host two state basketball tournament games Tuesday. The Schalmont boys face Ogdensburg Free Academy in a Class B game at 5:30 p.m., followed by a Class B girls' contest between Mechanicville and Canton.
“As of right now we are anticipating holding the games as scheduled with fans,” Saratoga Springs athletic director Nick McPartland said. “There has been minimal conversation between myself and our superintendent as far as changing anything from our regular schedule.”
Monday is the first day spring high school sports teams can practice across the state.
“We plan on running those as scheduled,” McPartland said. “Who knows what tomorrow could bring. It seems that everyone is taking this day to day. . . . Right now, we have not made a decision to change anything as originally planned.”
New York State Public High School Athletic Association Executive Director Robert Zayas said all basketball games are still on, including girls’ regional games scheduled for next Saturday at Hudson Valley Community College. Zayas said he is monitoring the situation.
“This situation is fluid and could change by the hour,” Zayas said early Sunday afternoon.
The weekend's completed state championships events, Zayas said, were well-attended.
"I heard the [state] indoor track [championships] had between 2,000 to 2,500 in attendance. We also had good attendance at the [state] swimming,” Zayas said.
The Siena men’s and women’s basketball teams are heading to Atlantic City, New Jersey, for the MAAC Tournament that gets underway Tuesday at Jim Whelan Boardwalk Hall. The women play a 1:30 p.m. first-round game Tuesday against Canisius, while the men play in the quarterfinals at 7 p.m. Wednesday.
In a text message, MAAC commissioner Rich Ensor said the league's plan is to allow fans to watch the games in person "unless [the] state of New Jersey mandates" otherwise, and Siena athletic director John D'Argenio agreed that the league's plan is to “take their lead from the government agencies.”
In Loudonville, D'Argenio said the current plan is for Siena athletic activities to continue without any changes.
“You have to always be aware,” D’Argenio said. “Certainly, we have people on campus that are looking at all different things, and we have a good MAAC office that’s working closely with the [Jim Whelan Boardwalk Hall officials], and you make sure you have all those conversations and cover those bases.”
No changes are planned for the UAlbany athletic teams.
“Like every campus, we’ve got groups meeting about this and we’re monitoring the situation,” Great Danes athletic director Mark Benson said.
Times Union Center is hosting two NCAA events on back-to-back weeks. The first and second round of the men’s basketball tournament will be March 19 and 21, while the men’s hockey tournament's East Regional will take place March 28-29.
In a statement, TU Center general manager Bob Belber said: “At ASM Global, we are closely monitoring the latest developments regarding the Coronavirus (COVID-19) globally and any potential impact it may have on our day-to-day operations here at the Times Union Center and Albany Capital Center. The health and safety of our guests and employees is our top priority. Through public health organizations such as, the Center for Disease Control (CDC) and the World Health Organization (WHO) we are staying abreast of the latest updates and developments as they occur. Any actions we take will be consistent with guidelines from these agencies and local health department officials.”
Belber added that the arena has hosted three events over the weekend. He said they are disinfecting all hand railings, door handles, bathroom areas and counters at concessions prior to and after all events. Also, there are 25 additional hand sanitizers being installed on the concourse this week, and they are posting signs in all bathrooms recommending that people wash their hands thoroughly.
Belber said there have been no requests for ticket refunds to date for any events.
As for the Engineers, they are hosting their first quarterfinal series since 2013. They are seeking their first trip to the ECACH final four for the first time since 2002.
“What’s really important for me as the hockey coach is to go one step at a time,” RPI head coach Dave Smith said. “I think like a lot of people, it’s disappointing because we do have such special fans, and that’s the initial step. I’m disappointed for our guys. I’m disappointed for our staff [and] for our fans. But then when we take a step back from that and we think about the magnitude of something bigger than Troy, New York and RPI hockey. Now, we can move forward again. This so much bigger than one game, one day and we start to get our hands around it."
Individuals who purchased RPI tickets in advance should contact the box office at 518-276-6262 during regular business hours (Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.) to obtain a refund. Emails should be directed to Norris Pearson, operations manager of the Field House, at [email protected]
Each game of the quarterfinals series between Rensselaer and the Crimson will be webcast live via ECAC Hockey’s partnership with ESPN+. Links will be posted when available. Live audio of the games will be available on WRPI, 91.5 FM and www.wrpi.org and live statistics will be found at RPIAthletics.
Start times are 7 p.m. Friday and Saturday and, if necessary, 5 p.m. Sunday.
Sports editor Michael Kelly, and sports staff writers Stan Hudy and Jim Schiltz contributed to this report.
On Twitter, follow Associate Sports Editor Ken Schott @slapschotts and Daily Gazette Sports @dgazettesports. Email Schott at [email protected]. Listen to “The Parting Schotts Podcast” at https://dailygazette.com/sports/partingschotts, Apple Podcasts, Castbox and Spotify.