NEW YORK (AP) — Linda Cimino hasn’t lost a Northeast Conference game on the court this season at St. Francis, N.Y.
Yet the Terriers are sitting at 4-2 in the standings after forfeiting two games right before the New Year because of COVID-19 issues on the team. They play first-place Fairleigh Dickinson on Friday night.
“It’s obviously disappointing to take two forfeit losses,” Cimino said. “What makes it more frustrating is that you take away playing opportunities from the student athletes, especially after they’ve done everything we’ve asked them to do in terms of getting vaccinated.”
The NEC is still assigning a forfeit to teams if they can’t play because of the coronavirus. There have already been a half-dozen games forfeited. The Horizon League, which is the only other conference potentially forcing a forfeit, is leaving it up to the commissioner to decide whether a team forfeits or the game is declared a no-contest.
What makes it more difficult for NEC schools is that their conference tournament is played at the higher seeded team’s homecourt, so it could give a distinct advantage to teams. The Horizon League semifinals and finals are on a neutral court.
The NEC has discussed and voted on the issue a few times since the season started, but the league has decided to keep the forfeit rule. The league made a change this year back to having every team qualify for the tournament instead of just the top four teams.
“Everyone has that opportunity,” NEC Commissioner Noreen Morris said in a phone interview. “That was the first thing we needed to do. Gives them the piece of mind that they’ll be in the postseason by allowing all the eligible teams to be eligible for the championship.”
Morris understands the coaches’ frustration with the forfeits but feels that no solution is going to make everyone happy. The academic piece of potentially missing classes to make-up games is something the league wasn’t comfortable doing.
“We are trying to manage what are the best options, what are the pros and cons?” she said. “There is no good answer here. When you look at the pros and cons of forfeit vs no-contest. teams impacted negatively are saying you are penalizing us.
“We wanted to incentive people to get vaccinated, but omicron is different as you’re not as protected. Teams are saying you’re penalizing us for something that isn’t in our control.”
The Horizon policy is a little different. If there is a COVID-19 outbreak on a team that has a low vaccination rate and there aren’t enough players to put on the court, a forfeit would be likely. There can be a lot of moving parts, and not every team’s situation is the same, so the commissioner considers everything.
“It’s not black and white. There is a lot of gray area,” Horizon League Assistant Commissioner Dan Gliot said. “Our biggest thing is to promote getting vaccinated.”
The league doesn’t want to penalize teams that do everything in their power to not have a COVID-19 outbreak. So far only a few schools have had to forfeit games.
Both conferences have historically been one-bid leagues, so winning the postseason tournament is the only chance to make the NCAAs.
Morris said there’s still a chance the conference could amend its stance, although with only a little more than a month left in the season, that’s unlikely.
“We’re always open to evaluation and to pivoting,” she said. “If COVID taught us anything, it’s that we have to be ready to pivot at any given time given the landscape we’re dealing. With COVID, there’s no such thing as any policy with COVID being done.”
AP Sports Writer Eric Olson contributed to this story.
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