Patriot League Cancels Fall Sports; Merrimack Loses Football Opener

The Patriot League joined the Ivy League on Monday, punting on football and other fall sports because of the coronavirus pandemic while holding out hope the games can be made up.

The Merrimack College football team was slated to host Holy Cross, a member of the Patriot League, in the 2020 opener on Sept. 3.

The Patriot League said its 10 Division I schools will also not compete in men’s and women’s soccer, women’s volleyball and field hockey. The conference’s council of presidents said the league will consider playing those seasons in the winter and spring if possible.

“Really, really tough decision,” Patriot League Commissioner Jennifer Heppel said. “Nobody’s happy. Happy is a word that’s kind of gone out the window.”

The conference is mostly comprised of private schools located in the Northeast that offer limited athletic scholarships. Pennsylvania rivals Lehigh and Lafayette have played 155 times, more than any opponents in college football history.

Army and Navy are also Patriot League members, but not in football.

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Heppel said news about the United States’ inability to control the pandemic coming out of the July 4 weekend heightened concern within the Patriot League about its ability to safely conduct a sports season.

“That really spurred a lot of individual conversations of, ’What are you thinking? Where are you? How might we best begin to think about moving forward?” she said. “And that led into more collective conversations last week.”

The Patriot League competes in Division I’s second tier of college football (FCS) like the Ivy League, which announced a similar decision last week. Unlike the Ivy League, the Patriot League participates in the FCS playoffs.

“Of course you take note,” Heppel said of the Ivy’s decision. “When a decision that’s made like the Ivy made that hadn’t been made before, you want to understand because information is valuable.”

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