Franklin & Marshall College director of athletics and recreation Patricia S.W. Epps wants to make one thing clear: The fall sports season isn’t canceled for the Diplomats.
“I’ve seen reports out there that the fall season is canceled. That’s not accurate,” Epps said.
That might be in part because the Tuesday press release from the Centennial Conference, of which F&M is a member, about fall sports being suspended was a bit vague. While the conference’s fall sports are suspended due to COVID-19 concerns, conference leaders intend to meet near the end of September to re-evaluate the possibility of games being played later that fall.
“The important thing is this is not definite at this point,” Epps said by phone Wednesday. “The decision will be made later.”
The lone exception is football, which will not be played this fall, with the conference instead leaving open the possibility of playing in the spring. Asked why the conference is approaching football differently than other fall sports, Epps said. “Just because of the size of the team.”
“Our team has 80 to 90 players,” Epps said. “Some football teams in our conference have over 100 players, and the close contact of the student-athletes. ... By nature, football is a close contact sport. It can be argued so is soccer and other things, but I think football gives the most consternation.”
Fall sports teams typically begin practices in mid-August. But instead of waiting another month to consider suspending operations, the conference made the decision this week in order to give student-athletes enough time to evaluate their plans for the fall, Epps said.
“We needed to make this decision now so the students can make a realistic decision about what their choices are,” Epps said. “Because students have choices as well.”
F&M announced last week it plans to reopen in the fall under a blended approach, offering a mixture of online and in-person instruction, with classes starting Aug. 26.
“They (students) can decide to take courses online or come back to the college,” Epps said. “So it’s important (that fall student-athletes) know the conference’s plan for fall sports now so they can take that into consideration.”
It’s worth noting that Centennial Conference members Haverford and Swarthmore have already canceled their fall sports seasons.
Meanwhile, Epps said that F&M's student-athletes, including those on fall sports teams, will be able to practice sometime this fall. Those practices will be under stringent safety protocols, such as masks for coaches and social distancing for players, among other parameters.
“We don’t know when those practices are going to start,” Epps said. “The college is going to have a staggered start for all the students. So the student-athletes will be part of that staggered start.”
Epps, by the way, is retiring at the end of this month. A member of the McCaskey and Lancaster County Sports Hall of Fames, Epps has worked at F&M the last 41 years, becoming the school's first female director of athletics and recreation when named to the position in 2007. Her final months on the job aren’t quite what she anticipated them to be.
“You prepare for hurricanes and national tragedies, we’ve been through it all in my years,” Epps said. “But you never expect that there will be a pandemic. That’s in a science fiction book, that’s not something you’re ever prepared to deal with. The most painful part about it is the student-athletes care so much about their sport. ... that’s the most challenging aspect.”