Eastern Mennonite University athletics announced today the postponement of Old Dominion Athletic Conference (ODAC) competition and championships for fall and winter sports through the end of the 2020 calendar year (December 31).
This announcement is in conjunction with a decision announced today by the ODAC office, representing the 15 full-time member institutions. The unanimous vote was made by the ODAC President’s Council on Monday. The ODAC becomes the 16th NCAA D-III conference to suspend fall competition in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The conference’s leadership worked extremely hard to explore ways we might have conducted conference championships and competition in the fall,” ODAC Commissioner Brad Bankston said. “Those conversations involved a number of options, but none of them could change the current impact of the virus and its prevalence in our society. A safe return for students and the sustainability of campus life is a priority for all our members.”
EMU remains committed to providing a quality student-athlete experience and will maintain team activities over the fall semester in preparation for springtime competition.
“For all of us involved in athletics at EMU, from student-athletes to coaches and fans, this announcement of the postponement of competition is difficult to hear, but we understand the rationale and the importance of the decision to the greater health of our community,” said EMU Director of Athletics Dave King.
The decision impacts nearly 40 percent of EMU’s traditional undergraduate student body, King added, and by extension, also those faculty and staff who contribute to the experience of being a Royals student-athlete.
“This decision doesn’t change our mission of providing opportunities for student-athletes to learn, lead and serve within their sport and beyond,” he said. “We know involvement in athletics and the team environment are major contributors to the well-being and health of our many student-athletes and a big part of their success in the classroom and preparation for life after college. None of these benefits are going away with this new limitation.”
As health recommendations allow and with modifications for group sizes and activities, King anticipates that EMU teams will be able to train with coaches and interact with teammates in preparation for competition in the spring semester. These opportunities include practices, skill training, leadership training and other team activities.
Continued involvement in any athletics activity is contingent upon a collaborative effort with student-athletes, staff, and other members of the campus community in following the university’s health and safety protocols.
“If there was ever a time when we needed to be of one mind and purpose, it is this fall as we work together to face the challenges of the pandemic,” King said.
Since May, a COVID-19 Athletics Action Team has been preparing for the reopening of campus and for fall semester athletics programming. The working group includes representatives of university administration, athletic administration, coaching staff, athletic training staff, medical staff and student-athletes.
The decision also has no direct impact on non-ODAC sports, such as the Royals’ women’s triathlon and men’s volleyball programs. Decisions on the structure of those seasons will be made at a later time.
EMU student-athletes were informed by their coaches about the ODAC’s decision and invited to an information meeting in the coming days.
Justice Allen - senior cross country/track & field student-athlete and COVID-19 Athletics Action Team Member
“The postponement of sports is difficult for all athletes, but it’s important to keep our hopes high for the future and continue to work together as athletes. Athletics has played a crucial part in my college life at EMU. It introduced me to some of the most incredible people I will ever meet and developed my character into someone I never thought I’d be. Being able to do what I love most with the team and atmosphere I was involved in was truly a life changing experience. It was an honor being a part of the Action Team to make difficult decisions, and represent the student body.”
Ashley Kishorn - head field hockey coach and COVID-19 Athletics Action Team Member
“The health and safety of our student-athletes will always come first at EMU. It has been our Action Team’s goal to have sports this fall; we've been planning for months to make that happen. However, we are in agreement with the ODAC that it has come to a point where it just is not feasible to move forward with sport and keep everyone safe. This postponement of competition gives our athletic programs a unique opportunity to focus on the skill and fitness development of athletes and our teams throughout the fall semester. While I am disappointed we will not compete in the traditional sense, I am excited to bring the team back to campus and have time together on the field.”
Dr. Susan Schultz Huxman - president, Eastern Mennonite University
“I am thankful that EMU is part of the ODAC--one of the country’s premier NCAA D-III conferences. That commitment to a high-quality student-athlete experience was on display these past weeks as athletic directors, staff, and college presidents deliberated at length and ultimately discerned responsibly what the tough but appropriate course of action should be in response to the prevalence of the pandemic and our institutions’ limitations on all non-essential travel at this time.
I understand the postponement of fall competition comes as a significant setback to our student-athletes, coaches and staff at EMU. And yet I am also thankful that we have a creative and resilient team of coaches and supporters to improvise this new and unusual “pre-season.”