The University of Rhode Island women’s volleyball team probably won’t be traveling to St. Louis or Dayton this fall. The baseball team won’t have quite as many of its busy conference weekends. The two-time reigning Atlantic 10 champion URI men’s soccer team will have to finish in the top four of the league standings in order to have a shot at defending its tournament title, then face a shorter road to the crown.
Those changes all stem from last week’s annual spring meetings of the A-10 conference, which were conducted virtually for the first time. Ramifications of the coronavirus pandemic were a primary topic, and the league is making adjustments – mostly to non-revenue sports so far – to address the issues. Condensed and regionalized schedules, plus smaller tournament fields, are among the key moves. The changes will affect field hockey, volleyball, men’s soccer, women’s soccer, baseball, softball and women’s lacrosse in the 2020-21 season. No scheduling changes have been implemented for men’s or women’s basketball.
“We had our annual year-end conference business meeting to address key league topics, as well as the many issues we are facing as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic and the national economic crisis facing higher education and intercollegiate athletics,” A-10 Commissioner Bernadette V. McGlade said in a press release. “The decisions made, including revisions to our conference schedules, championship formats, policies and procedures were extremely difficult. However, each was considered and discussed with empathy, in consideration of the health, welfare and safety of our student-athletes, coaches, support staff and overall athletic programs.”
League officials, A-10 athletic directors, and men’s and women’s basketball coaches conducted video conference calls over three days as a substitute for the usual in-person spring meetings.
“The Atlantic 10 membership, like all of college sports, must carefully navigate the current environment with regards to health and safety while maintaining fiscal responsibilities,” said URI Athletic Director Thorr Bjorn, who is also chair of the A-10 Athletic Directors’ group. “I believe we’ve done that successfully this week, and I commend my colleagues and thank the Atlantic 10 staff for working together to address many key issues.”
Many unknowns loom large for colleges and universities amid the pandemic, particularly in terms of the fall semester. The league could be forced to make additional significant adjustments if students are not back on campus.
“The hope is that there will be a return to campus and classes with the ability to implement the necessary COVID-19 protocols for the fall semester. Should this not occur, the conference is prepared to go back to the drawing board and reevaluate with medical professionals all decisions in the best interests of our student-athletes and programs,” added McGlade. “These are extraordinary times and the athletic directors are leading in extraordinary fashion as evidenced by their willingness to make smart, hard decisions for the 2020-21 season while remaining committed to staying focused and resilient as circumstances in our world of athletics and academia change on a daily basis.”
For URI, the schedule changes will impact men’s and women’s soccer and women’s volleyball in the fall, and baseball and softball in the spring. Schedules would be condensed by 25 percent. That would mean 10 conference matches in volleyball compared to 14 last year, six in men’s soccer from an already short eight-game season and eight in women’s soccer compared to 10. Baseball and softball teams, which play conference series on the weekends, would go from 24 games down to 18.
The league will also construct schedules with less travel. The A-10 stretches from URI at its most eastern point to St. Louis furthest west, from UMass at its most northern to Davidson in North Carolina, down south.
“These revised schedules will allow for institutions to ensure a safer environment, minimize travel and missed class time, and conserve cost while still providing competitive schedules for the student-athletes and coaches,” read the A-10 release.
Championships in volleyball, soccer, baseball, softball and women’s lacrosse will feature four-team brackets, designed to limit travel and allow the tournaments to be conducted over the course of one weekend. URI won the A-10 men’s soccer title in both 2018 and 2019.
In addition to the changes to game schedules, the league will alter its plans for men’s basketball media day and future administrative meetings in the 2020-21 academic year. All will be held virtually.
Outside of coronavirus issues, the directors and coaches discussed a number of pertinent NCAA governance-related issues, including the transfer legislative and waiver criteria, pending discussions on regulatory adjustments directly impacted by the pandemic, as well as future decision-making frameworks and protocols for safe return to sport. Discussion related to the soon to be drafted legislation for student athletes’ use of their name, image and likeness (NIL), was vetted, allowing for meaningful feedback to the NCAA.
The men’s and women’s basketball coaches each held their annual meetings, discussing scheduling, NCAA legislation and processes for the return of their student-athletes to campus and safe training. The 2020-21 conference schedule pairings were discussed, and the men’s 18-game, and women’s 16-game pairings will be delivered soon.