When COVID-19 concerns shut down the NCAA in March, the cancellations came one at a time. It didn’t all end at once, and Long Beach State is ready to take that same approach while trying to bring athletics back to campus.
LBSU Athletics Director Andy Fee submitted a phased plan for return to the California State University Chancellor’s Office earlier this month, and is holding out hope for the return of sports in the fall.
“I remain optimistic that we’ll be competing in the fall again,” Fee said. “It might look a little weird. Maybe we won’t have fans. Maybe we will have social distancing with fans.”
Fee reiterated last week that anything done on LBSU campus would be in accordance with the health orders of the CDC and state health departments.
The Big West Conference released a statement last week that announced the Board Of Directors would not be making a decision on fall 2020 athletics until the end of July because, “We do not need to make that decision today, this week, or even this month. Instead, we have time for our health experts to continue the work that will both inform and empower us to make a better evidence-based decision when the game clock of our fall season truly is nearing zero.”
“We want our student athletes, coaches and staff to not be in a position where they’re jeopardizing their health,” Fee said. “I think we’ve worked really well in collaboration with the Student Health Center, President Conoley, her executive team, the city of Long Beach and the county of Los Angeles. It’s gonna be a process but we’re going to get there.”
The first phase of plan is preparing the facilities to comply to any new guidelines, and the second phase is bringing some staff back to the offices on campus. Technically, LBSU has been in the first phase for weeks.
“We’re certainly looking at how we clean a venue, a locker room or a training room,” Fee said. “All of those little things that suddenly when added up become a big thing.”
The individual workouts phase have been categorized as voluntary, and will be primarily conducted outside. The student-athletes will have their temperature checked before training. Fee said full team practices will come in August, per NCAA guidelines.
The dormitories also will be opening in August, and Fee said it’s their goal to keep the student-athletes together who are living on campus.
“It’s not quarantine but it’s just trying to keep them kind of amongst themselves to mitigate any possible transmission outside of that group,” Fee said. “We’re looking forward to it. Being on campus is a big deal at this point — as crazy as that sounds.”
The challenge facing international students will be the Department of Homeland Security’s position on international travel and visas. The department granted a waiver for them and their i-20 Visas two months ago, but they haven’t yet decided on new international students coming to the United States for the first time. Limitations like that will certainly change rosters for women’s tennis, water polo and a handful of other programs.
The LBSU women’s tennis 2020 recruiting class is ranked No. 8 in the country among mid-majors, according to The Tennis Recruiting Network. Incoming freshmen Arina Babkova, Nikola Homolkova and Claire Le Du are from Russia, Czech Republic and France, respectively.
“Hopefully Homeland Security will extend the waiver for the fall semester and allow new international students to come here,” Fee said. “We’ve got probably 15 to 20 new international student athletes, and it’s a big deal.”
The final phase of the return is competition scheduled for the end of August. Fee said LBSU will be as ready as it can be to host any event, but that he’s ready to adjust the schedules.
“It’s really odd that now we’re putting pandemic language into our athletic contest contracts,” Fee said. “For the most part, we’ve been able to agree on rescheduling (canceled games) for future years. We will do as much as we can to make sure that our schedule remains consistent, but we’re not going to travel somewhere if it puts any of our student athletes or staff in danger. And we’re also not going to force anyone to travel.”
Fee added that he respects the fluid nature of this situation, that the return will be gradual and require patience and that he wants sports back at LBSU as soon as safely possible.
“Hopefully, knock on wood, we will have some fans cheering us on,” Fee said.
Big West Conference officials said an updated statement about its fall 2020 season in conjunction with the NCAA will come out no later than July 20.