MCLA athletics department still waiting for answers as colleges debate return plans

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NORTH ADAMS — MCLA is anticipating students and faculty returning to campus for a fall semester that will begin on Sept. 2.

Whether sports will return with the students is a question that is still being determined.

"We've been talking, it feels like every day, but it's more like weekly with all of the [athletic directors] in the conference, in consultation with the council of presidents for the MASCAC schools," MCLA athletic director Laura Mooney said. "The intention is to try and provide some sort of an experience for our student-athletes, but nothing has been finalized."

Around New England, college leaders and officials from the various conferences those schools play in, have been meeting continuously throughout the spring to determine what kind of athletics programs — if any— the schools will have.

"We keep going over a ton of different scenarios," Mooney said in an interview with The Eagle. "All of the conferences in the area, no one has really put out any kind of a statement yet, whether it's going to be a full schedule, conference games only, in state travel only depending on your individual state's regulations with their governors. We're lucky to be in Phase 2 at the moment. Hopefully, we'll continue to progress.

"Winter, I know theoretically, starts Oct. 15. I think things might look a little different."

Statements from other New England Division III conferences point to no definitive answers yet. NESCAC put out a statement last week that read, in part:

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"Athletics engagement is an important part of the experience for many of our students, and member institutions remain committed to this experience. However, this will not be a traditional fall on campus in any respect, including for athletics. The conference continues to develop plans for the return to athletics, including possible modifications to NESCAC rules to allow institutions flexibility to provide for meaningful experiences for students within school policies and federal, state, and local health directives. We expect to have more details in the weeks ahead and will share information as it becomes available."

While the conference has not committed to seasons, Bowdoin College announced Monday that it would not field teams in the fall and winter seasons.

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The Commonwealth Coast Conference also released a statement.

"The member institutions of the Commonwealth Coast Conference are united in our intent to provide athletic competition for our student-athletes this coming academic year. While much is unknown and changing daily, our presidents, athletic directors and medical personnel are hard at work doing all we can to provide the safest possible environment for our student-athletes in all sports when competition may safely resume."

MCLA put out a statement on June 18, outlining plans for school year, which will include on-campus and remote learning, with students leaving campus at Thanksgiving as the first semester comes to an end.

The statement, from MCLA president James F. Birge did say that the school awaits some decisions from MASCAC regarding the fall and winter sports seasons.

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"No actual decisions have been made, but really, we're throwing everything on the table," the MCLA athletic director said, "trying to see what the best situation will be."

Mooney said that while budgets are still somewhat unknown, she said she's confident that there won't have to be wholesale changes to the athletics budget at MCLA. She also didn't anticipate having to cut sports.

"I would say we're somewhat exempt because we don't rely on football to fund the department, like a lot of the big D-I's. We do rely on enrollment," Mooney said. "We're in a different spot now than we were a couple of months ago, when people were [wondering] if we were coming back for the fall. What was happening? The colleges in our area have every intention of reopening. It just might not be the same normal that everyone's used to. Enrollment might be lower, but I don't think it's going to be as low as people projected originally."

The one thing that is currently on the back-burner at MCLA is hiring a new women's basketball coach. Loren Stock's contract was not renewed after four years. Under Stock, the Trailblazers went 23-74, including 2-21 in 2019-20.

"We're still in a hiring freeze at the moment," Mooney said. "As soon as we are no longer in a hiring freeze — we also have an assistant athletic training position that's still on hold — it is my priority to get those two positions filled, when I'm allowed."

Howard Herman can be reached at hherman@berkshireeagle.com, at @howardherman on Twitter, or 413-496-6253.


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