The Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference has suspended all fall sports indefinitely because of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic but hasn't determined whether the fall schedules will be moved to the 2021 spring semester, the league announced on Thursday.
The MEAC hasn't ruled out playing football and other sports in the spring and will continue to discuss the option, league sources told ESPN. A spring season poses potential challenges around scheduling logistics, player eligibility, recruits and transfers, but it hasn't yet been ruled out by the MEAC.
The MEAC currently plans to proceed with winter sports competition as scheduled, unless health and medical professionals advise otherwise. The MEAC's Council of Presidents and Chancellors made the decision "out of a concern for the safety as well as the physical and mental health of our student-athletes, coaches, administrators, support staff, faculty and fans."
"Obviously this is an arduous decision because everyone wants to have a fall season for student-athletes, fans and others," MEAC commissioner Dennis Thomas said in a prepared statement. "Part of our responsibility is to ensure the mental and physical health and safety of our student-athletes, coaches, and staff is paramount. It is imperative that everyone recognize that is our first and foremost responsibility."
Nine MEAC schools sponsor football, but three of them -- defending champion North Carolina A&T, Bethune Cookman and Florida A&M -- are leaving the conference next July. The other football members are Delaware State, Howard, Morgan State, Norfolk State, North Carolina Central and South Carolina State.
Among the games canceled are the high-profile MEAC-SWAC Challenge and Celebration Bowl against teams from the Southwestern Athletic Conference, the other HBCU conference in the FCS.
According to the release, the rapid escalation of COVID-19 cases along the Eastern Seaboard heavily influenced the council's decision, as the data suggests that the African American and other minority communities are disproportionately affected by COVID-19. The MEAC, which is based in Norfolk, Virginia, and comprises 11 historically Black institutions along the Atlantic coastline, "is committed to ensuring that the correct measures are in place to reduce exposure to the virus."
"The health and safety of our student-athletes continue to be our number one priority," Dr. Wayne A. I. Frederick, Howard University president and chair of the MEAC Council of Presidents and Chancellors, said in a prepared statement. "We have made the decision to suspend all sports competitions after careful review of the current conditions and consideration of the potential exposure that regular travel to competitions may cause and ongoing extensive physical contact. While our competitions have been suspended, each member institution will plan ongoing engagement of all student-athletes to ensure optimization of their physical and mental well-being as they continue their matriculation."
MEAC institutions will continue the resocialization process for student-athletes, which encompasses mental and physical health counseling, strength and conditioning protocol, and compliance with all COVID-19 safety requirements.
ESPN's Adam Rittenberg and The Associated Press contributed to this report.