Students holding up signs in protest of the America East ban at the men’s basketball game on Feb. Stony Brook University student-athletes are starting a campaign against the America East. 9. MARCUS DIA/THE STATESMAN

Stony Brook University student-athletes are uniting to overturn America East’s decision to bar them from competing in the conference playoffs, which was announced on Feb. 21. They plan to hold a demonstration during tonight’s women’s basketball game.

At 8 p.m. on Monday, the Stony Brook Student-Athlete Advisory Committee (SAAC) met at Island Federal Arena to discuss further action following the decision. Plans include a social media campaign and rallies at future sporting events. 

“I’m kind of happy we’re moving away from the America East because they pride themselves on the mental health of others, and it just doesn’t seem like they really care too much about Stony Brook mental health as of now,” Tara Hauff, a senior distance runner on the Stony Brook track and field team, said to The Statesman. “When Stony Brook decides to leave the conference, all of a sudden, mental health doesn’t really seem to matter.”

Members of the SAAC have reached out to the America East, affiliated schools and university presidents to gain support for the revision of the Conference Constitution Article 3.4 (b), which holds an institution’s withdrawal from the conference subject to its teams’ ineligibility to compete for conference championships.

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“The message we are trying to put across is that we want to get this by-law changed. In order to do that, we have to not fight this as Stony Brook athletes but just fight as athletes,” Hauff said. “If we detach that name, we might have a little more luck getting a bigger support.”

Both Hauff and Stony Brook athletic director Shawn Heilbron reported hearing from student-athletes that other athletic directors in the America East have banned their students from supporting Stony Brook athletes in their campaign. 

I can tell you that when James Madison was rendered ineligible for conference championships in November, all of the America East athletes were united and speaking out against that,” Heilbron said. “It’s very interesting that when it happens within the conference, there’s not been a lot of support from America East institutions.”

James Madison University was punished by the CAA after announcing its move to the Sun Belt Conference on Nov. 6, leaving them ineligible to compete “for all conference team championships, effective immediately,” the CAA stated

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A petition against the decision amassed over 1,000 signatures from student-athletes at universities across the country, such as the University of Massachusetts, Clemson University and George Mason University. 

“We are student-athletes at a university, representing ourselves and each other,” Emilio Quevedo, a senior defender on the Stony Brook men’s soccer team, said.

Student-athletes from other America East schools have visibly protested within the last year. The University of Hartford softball players blacked out the school’s name on their jerseys in a May doubleheader to take a stand against the school’s move to Division III. 

The Statesman has reached out to all athletic directors in the America East conference to respond to allegations of not supporting Stony Brook student-athletes and continues to await comments.

Although the Stony Brook campaign is social media-based, Heilbron thinks “there are other opportunities to get the word out and raise awareness.”

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Seawolves players organized a protest during the Stony Brook men’s basketball game against UMass Lowell on Feb. 9. Displaying large signs with messages calling out the America East while loudly chanting “Let us play!”, the demonstration was noticeable but, according to the players, not enough.

Stony Brook University President Maurie McInnis penned a public letter to America East Commissioner Brad Walker on Friday, Feb. 18, calling for a reversal of the ban. The following day, Stony Brook released a joint statement with James Madison and the University of Illinois Chicago (UIC), demanding that all athletic conferences eliminate policies that punish student-athletes for a university’s conference change and reverse any ongoing action.

America East remains adamant in its decision. “The Board of Presidents has already considered and reconsidered this matter and has rendered its final decision,” America East Senior Associate Commissioner Sean Tainsh said on Feb. 21.

Stony Brook’s student-athletes are not giving up yet.

“Our student-athletes represent Stony Brook in such an impressive fashion, they really are united and what they’re trying to do is create change within the America East, but on a national level also,” Heilbron said. “They’ve taken on a more global approach to this and trying to get all conferences that have this outdated, archaic by-law to change it, and that’s what I think is really exciting to see. I support them 100 percent.” 

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