UD, CAA join list of fall gridiron cancellations

Blue Hen football coach Danny Rocco said Delaware officials didn’t really have any choice but postpone the season. Delaware sports information/Mark Campbell

NEWARK — Chrissi Rawak remembers the day pretty clearly.

It was March 12th and Delaware’s football team was about to head out for its second spring practice session.

That’s when Rawak, Delaware’s athletic director, had to cancel UD’s spring sports season because of the exploding coronavirus pandemic.
“No one ever imagined that four months later we would be in a similar — if not worse — situation,” she said. “But the reality is, we are.”

On Friday afternoon, the Colonial Athletic Association officially announced that it won’t be playing football this fall.

With the MEAC making the same announcement on Thursday, that means neither of the state’s two Division I FCS football programs — Delaware or Delaware State — will have a fall season this year. That hasn’t happened since 1943, during the height of World War II.

And while UD officials will now turn their attention toward playing a spring football season, they still said it was a sad decision to make.

“As you can imagine, this is a very, very difficult day for Delaware athletics and, specifically, our fall sports,” Rawak said in a conference call with reporters. “While we have worked relentlessly to identify the safest way. … As we analyzed practice and competition and travel, it just was very clear that it was not going to be something that we were willing to risk.

“The lives of our people and the risk that it was going to take was not worth it.

“This is not an easy day for us,” she added. “Although I am certain, in my heart and my head that it is right, it doesn’t make it any less difficult.”

UD quarterback Nolan Henderson said the Hens will just have to keep working toward a possible spring season. Delaware sports information/Mark Campbell

“I’m in full agreement with Chrissi on the decision,” said Delaware coach Danny Rocco. “When it comes down to it, they made the right decision based on the right factors. It’s based on the safety and overall health and well-being of our student-athletes and our staffs and our community.

“At its core, I think the decision is without a doubt the right decision to make based on all the information we were able to gather.”
Officially, the CAA canceled only its football schedule on Friday. But Delaware took the extra step of canceling all its fall sports seasons as well.

The conference also left the door open for its football programs to pursue an independent schedule for this fall. So far, CAA power James Madison seems to be the only one attempting to still play in the fall.

With the CAA now the fourth FCS football conference to put off its fall season, that point might become moot anyway.

A small group of UD football players had been on campus this summer for voluntary workouts. They’d been mostly working on conditioning as they followed various health protocols.

Junior quarterback Nolan Henderson, the Smyrna High grad, knows Delaware’s spring-sport athletes had to deal with having their seasons canceled, too.

“We supported them through that,” he said. “Already a couple of them have hit me up and kind of shared how they got through it.

“The main thing really is, put your head down and work. You can’t control when we’re going to play but we can just work really hard and use it as an opportunity to get better.”

The NCAA put out some suggested safety guidelines earlier in the week. Many of those protocols are either expensive or difficult to adhere to realistically.

“You almost get to the point where you’re like, ‘Well, we can’t even do that,’” said Rocco. “In due time, the protocols will be different slightly, altered somewhat. We’ll learn along the way and we’ll figure this out collectively.”

Of course, UD officials realize they need to make progress to be able to sports safely in the spring.

While health experts continue to work on the medical aspects of the situation, Delaware plans to have its fall-sports teams continue to practice through the fall months.

“We’re not the only ones trying to figure this out,” said Rocco. “I think in our league there’s going to be a passionate group of administrators and coaches that are going to want to make this happen. I’m excited about that thought.”