Mark Byington

James Madison coach Mark Byington instructs his team during a practice at the Atlantic Union Bank Center earlier this month. The Dukes opener against Lancaster Bible College scheduled for Wednesday was canceled after the Chargers shut down their program for the semester. 

The scheduled first opponent for James Madison’s opening of the brand new Atlantic Union Bank Center won’t come to Harrisonburg after all.

Lancaster Bible College, which was supposed to play JMU Wednesday at noon, shut down its men’s basketball program for the remainder of the fall semester, Chargers coach Jon Mack said Friday, citing COVID-19 concerns.

“We have some positive cases so we canceled that game,” Mack said. “This just happened. We’re shut down until the second semester.”

Soon after Mack talked to the Daily News-Record, JMU released a statement announcing the cancelation against Lancaster Bible College, but leaving open the possibility of still playing on that date.

“Wednesday’s men’s basketball game vs. Lancaster Bible College has been canceled. We are actively working to see if another opponent is available that day,” JMU assistant athletic director for communications Kevin Warner said.

JMU men’s coach Mark Byington said the Lancaster Bible College trainer first contacted the Dukes’ training staff at the start of the business day on Friday, informing them of positive tests within the program, but with hope the game could still be played. The Chargers soon completed contact tracing and determined they would not have enough players to compete.

Byington then spent most of the day working the phones trying to secure another opponent.

“We’re talking to Division I and non-Division I teams,” Byington said. “Any team we play has to have almost the same testing protocol that we have. It’s a pretty strict protocol to be able to play. There’s only a few out there (non-Division I) and most of the few out there are really good Division II teams. We’re talking to non-ones, but even more than that we’re scouring the around and keeping up to date with the Division I teams that are getting forced to cancel their first games.”

JMU was set to open the new arena with a men’s and women’s doubleheader. As of Friday morning, JMU women’s coach Sean O’Regan said his team was still expected to take on Mount St. Mary’s the day before Thanksgiving at 4 p.m.

The JMU women have four players in quarantine after one positive COVID test within the program, but plan to play Wednesday with eight available players.

“We’re on,” O’Regan said. “I still get nervous anytime the phone rings, (Mount St. Mary’s) seems to be on track. I talked to them a couple days ago and communicated our situation. I didn’t want them seeing on the internet that we had a case and being nervous we couldn’t play. We’re still on at this point. I’m glad about that.”

Byington told the Daily News-Record Friday morning his team has had one player in quarantine for the past week. That was for contact tracing and the player did not test positive for COVID-19, according to a school spokesman.

Byington said the player has been able to continue with conditioning on his own.

Lancaster Bible College was also scheduled to play at Virginia Military Institute on Dec. 1 and at Radford on Dec. 8. The three games against Division I opponents in Virginia were considered exhibitions for the Division III Chargers, who had just two other games on the schedule before the start of 2021.

Now, like many other Division III programs, Lancaster Bible won’t begin its season until after the new year.

“With the NCAA 14-day quarantine that takes us out of playing all our games,” Mack said. “We’re not practicing, so it’s not like we can jump in and play a Radford game even if all our guys come back and we test negative. It was just not realistic.”

If JMU doesn’t find a new opponent for Wednesday, they are currently scheduled to take on Norfolk State next Friday at noon, part of a multi-team event at the Atlantic Union Bank Center featuring the Dukes, Spartans and Radford.

Byington, the first-year head coach for the JMU men, grew up in Salem. He told the News-Record on Friday, before the news broke on Lancaster Bible, that he planned for his parents and one of his two brothers to be on hand for the opener on Wednesday.

That could still happen - but the foe won't be Lancaster Bible.

"It is uncontrollable and uncertain," he told the News-Record about the virus. "You can do everything right and then something (bad) could happen."

Contact Shane Mettlen at 574-6244 or Follow Shane on Twitter: @Shane_DNRSports

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