LOUDONVILLE — The MAAC delayed the start of competition for this upcoming fall season, but it remains possible that the league’s basketball programs will be able to conduct some on-campus summer workouts in August.
In a press release issued Monday with decisions made at last week’s MAAC Council of Presidents meeting — conducted virtually — the league announced that Sept. 11 will serve as the earliest date any of its fall teams will play in sports the conference sponsors. A decision, though, on whether basketball programs will be able to hold “mini camps” this summer was tabled until July 15.
Additionally, MAAC commissioner Rich Ensor said Monday that the league has developed multiple plans related to the structure of the 2020-21 basketball season. In a phone interview, Ensor said that “it’s vitally important to have a basketball season” for the MAAC, while Siena athletic director John D’Argenio said the plan remains for the college’s men’s basketball program to play in front of fans this upcoming season at Times Union Center in Albany.
“How many,” D’Argenio said, “is to be determined.”
MAAC programs are not allowed to conduct on-campus workouts through the end of July because of precautions related to the COVID-19 pandemic. D’Argenio said the league’s athletic directors “are interested in seeing if we can open up at least a little bit for” basketball programs in early-to-mid August, and suggested that basketball players could be back on Siena’s campus as early as Aug. 10 — two weeks before the school starts classes for its fall semester.
Tentatively, D’Argenio said the expectation is that Siena’s fall athletes will be allowed back on campus “during the week of August 17” and that practices for those teams could start that week. With the earliest competition date of Sept. 11 for fall teams, D’Argenio said the school’s teams for sports such as cross country, soccer and volleyball will play reduced non-conference seasons.
Ensor confirmed that MAAC members with teams in sports the league does not sponsor — such as football — will not need to have those teams abide by the league’s Sept. 11 start date. For instance, Monmouth will be able to play its Sept. 5 football game at Rutgers, both Ensor and a Monmouth athletic department spokesman confirmed.
Among other items approved at last week’s MAAC Council of Presidents meeting were “baseline policies and procedures for all on campus athletic activities and competitions this coming academic year,” as well as a “Student-Athlete Social Responsibility Pledge” that “MAAC student-athletes will sign as a condition of participating in MAAC championship competition.”
Along with a number of conferences across the nation, the MAAC was unable to complete its conference tournaments for basketball in March because of the COVID-19 pandemic. The Siena men’s program was the No. 1 seed for its tournament, and concluded its season on a 10-game winning streak.
Both D’Argenio and Ensor were unsure what a basketball “mini camp” would exactly entail, but the NCAA Division I Council approved last week that basketball programs could start as soon as July 20 with up to eight hours per week of activities. That includes weight training, conditioning work and skills instruction.
Ensor said the MAAC has a variety of “contingency plans” in the works for its basketball season, and that the league will be ready for anything ranging from if the NCAA allows for a pre-Nov. 10 start for the sport — something NCAA president Mark Emmert suggested last week in an interview with The Athletic as a possibility — to if teams only play conference games.
“Our plan right now,” Ensor said, “is to play MAAC basketball like we do every year, but with requirements for social distancing and crowd sizes.”
Figuring out how many fans will be allowed at MAAC contests during the 2020-21 academic year, though, will be up to individual schools. D’Argenio said Siena is still developing its plan regarding fans at sporting events that take place on its campus, and the school is exploring options it has at Times Union Center for basketball.
“We’ve been in constant dialogue with the Times Union Center, working with them on what a seating map might look like with social-distancing protocols,” D’Argenio said.
In basketball, the MAAC returns to a 20-game conference season for the 2020-21 season. Ensor said that means the conference will return to having its teams play two conference games during December, but said it’s possible the league will allow individual schools to figure out dates for those games — rather than dictate one weekend on which they must be played — because of revised academic calendars for member schools.
“So much of our efforts are built around that sport,” Ensor said. “There’s a lot of focus around maintaining basketball.”