Empire 8 conference won’t play fall sports


St. John Fisher, Nazareth, and Brockport affected by postponement

ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WROC) — Rochester has lost its first fall sports to COVID-19.

The Empire 8 conference will not play any fall sports. Nazareth and Fisher are Rochester-based full members of the Empire 8 and Brockport plays in that conference for football.

The conference made an official announcement Wednesday night. Fall sports will not be played in 2020, but there is still a possibility of playing those seasons in the spring.

The final nail in the coffin seems to be new guidelines put out by the NCAA. Each athlete would be required to get tested before every single game. While Alabama and Notre Dame should be able to foot the bill, Empire 8 schools simply can’t afford the tests.

“The biggest reason why this was canceled, in my opinion, is that the NCAA came out with some new regulations that you have to have testing for high-risk sports within 72 hours of competition,” says Brockport football head coach Jason Mangone. “So, a few parameters fall in line there. First of all, you have to have the funding to pay for 65 to 120 tests every Wednesday before a Saturday contest. We don’t have testing on our campus, so even if we had the funds, say we have the 7-10 thousand dollars a week to do so, how are we going to administer those tests? As you’ll see over the next few weeks, that may be the deal-breaker for every Division III program, and some Division II’s across the country is the expense to administer those tests. It’s going to be a logistical nightmare.”

“If you look at what the NCAA is recommending, and we believe that that’s the best path forward, you also have to consider the availability of testing,” says Empire 8 Commissioner Chuck Mitrano. “How quickly you can truly get those results back, there’s an anticipated backlog, and the ability to do that. The availability is not as great as we would hope it would have been at this point. I think you’re going to see other Division II and III conferences following the course.”

Outside of testing and cost, other factors like travel and exposing students to students from different schools added to the decision.

“Many of our colleges and universities are bringing students in from out of state,” says Nazareth College President Dr. Beth Paul. “It was suggested to us that we need to be as careful as we can be in offering a really wonderful learning experience for our students, while also making sure that they are safe and healthy.

While the facts mandated that the decision needed to be made, it still wasn’t an easy one.

“I woke up this morning and I felt like I was punched in the gut. I have three sons, two of which will be playing college athletics in the fall, or the spring this year, so I see this on all sides and all angles,” says Mitrano. “You never want to see the opportunity for student-athletes eliminated or reduced. So, it was for that reason that we knew we wanted to preserve that opportunity and we’re working to provide that for them in the spring.”

Some people, like St. John Fisher football head coach Paul Vosburgh, are less optimistic about the chances of a spring regular season.

“I just don’t know if having a spring season is really going to work,” he says. “You’ve got your football team back out there playing. Well, that means your men and women’s soccer teams out there playing, too. That means you’re women’s field hockey team is out there playing, too. Now, you’ve got those sports, then you still have spring sports. And you can’t take it away from them. Those poor guys, they lost last spring already and now to get them involved with fall sports going at the same time? That’s going to be hard.”

While other conferences like the Liberty League have so far just pushed back the start of the season, the Empire 8 said the time was right to give some clarity to student-athletes and coaches.

“We felt it was really important to give that information to our athletes that are playing fall sports so that they could adapt to adjust to a really disappointing reality,” says Paul. “But also, so that we had a lot of time to plan for them so that we are making sure that they have a great experience come fall.”

Sources also tell News 8 that the ban on sports will last until at least January 1st. However, the announcement from the conference said that decisions on winter sports will be made at a later date.

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