Utica College suspends athletic activity due to uptick in COVID-19 cases, cites off-campus parties as a possibility


Photo from utica.edu

Nick McAdam, Editor-in-Chief

This article was updated on Feb. 25 at 12:05 a.m. to include comments from Utica College Athletic Director David Fontaine.

All athletic activity has been paused due to the college’s increase in positive COVID-19 cases among student-athletes, President Laura Casamento announced this morning in an emailed letter. 

According to the letter, contact tracing by the College has indicated that the positive cases have resulted from social interactions away from all forms of athletic activity, including practice and competition. 

“Instead, we have reason to suspect that members of a small number of our teams have hosted or attended off-campus parties in violation of College health and safety protocols as well as local health orders,” Casamento said.

As a result, the Office of Campus Safety and Emergency Management will launch an investigation into the matter, reporting their findings directly to the President’s Office. Students found in violation of the College’s COVID-19 safety protocols will be moved to remote learning with the possibility of additional sanctions. Responsible teams could face a potential suspension for the entire season.

“Let me be clear: I understand that the type of behavior we are investigating, in normal times and under normal circumstances, is part of the fabric of team chemistry,” the letter stated. “But these are not normal times, and right now this behavior is irresponsible, selfish, cavalier, and, most of all, dangerous.”

According to the college’s coronavirus dashboard, there are currently 27 positive cases from students with eight currently in quarantines and 14 in isolation. The number, at the moment, remains higher in terms of positive cases than the uptick in positive cases seen in residence halls toward the end of the last semester.

The news comes after a quiet fall semester in school sports which limited all sports to practice. The latest reported instance of COVID-19 violations due to parties was back in August, as 12 students from South Hall were sent home after a gathering, prompting a petition from students to bring the 12 back on campus. Later last semester, multiple teams, including football and volleyball, faced a mandatory two-week quarantine after a sharp rise in positive cases.

“We will continue to ask all of our students and student-athletes to practice the protocols that have been put in place to keep everyone safe during the pandemic,” Athletic Director David Fontaine said. “Wearing masks, not having or attending parties, distancing when appropriate and so on. We have specifically communicated to our student-athletes in many ways such as written communication, large WebEx meetings, individual team meetings and consistent messaging to teams through their coaches.  We have also communicated regularly with the Student Athlete Advisory Committee to provide updates and reminders.”

The only Empire 8 competitions to resume this semester included both men’s and women’s hockey, along with track and field, which began with its opening meet at Colgate University, placing first in the competition. Both hockey teams began UCHC play this weekend, with the men’s team splitting its two games against Wilkes University, and the women’s team capturing all 4 points in the standings against Manhattanville College.

“If they did it, it was because someone informed them about it,” Senior Joram Stephenson said, referring to information being passed to the President’s Office. “It’s most likely that a ‘concerned citizen’ brought whatever they know to their attention.”

Stephenson, however, understands the need to remain safe during these times, though he also understands the need for students to find ways to socialize, especially after being quarantined all of last year.

“Many student-athletes are playing their final seasons in the sport they love, and this may turn some informant in the interest of their seasons continuing,” he said. “It’s because of this and the fact that Utica College chose to announce it this way that doesn’t sit well with me. I dislike that this may turn teams against each other. In these times, it’s unity, not division, that is needed most.”

Senior Jayme Connolly, a former student-athlete, said her reason for not returning to athletics this semester was due to the possible inconsistency of sports being started and paused.

“I feel like our priorities should be to keep all of the students on campus and safe,” she said. “Sports shouldn’t be as big of a priority as they made it out to be.”

According to Fontaine, the college will continue to monitor COVID-19 cases through regular testing, with the hopes of resuming play in the safest way as soon as possible.