While some NCAA conferences have already canceled or amended their fall athletics schedule due to COVID-19 concerns, the Big West Conference is in no hurry to decide its future. That has left Long Beach State and the other member schools in a holding pattern.
“Everything is still on the table,” LBSU athletics director Andy Fee said. “Certainly canceling fall sports is kind of the worst case scenario. You don’t want to do that. So, if you can avoid it, I think we’d like to. But we’re not going to do it if it’s putting student athletes, coaches and staff at risk.”
Women’s soccer, women’s volleyball, men’s water polo, cross country and men’s and women’s golf usually start team activities in August. The Big West said earlier this month it would make a decision on July 20, but after meeting last week, they won’t decide until Aug. 1.
“We’re up against the clock, so to speak,” Fee said. “It is a very tight period there.”
In the short term, the conference needs to decide on a schedule because some student athletes were planning on staying in the dorms. As of this week, LBSU is still planning on housing students on campus despite only about five percent of classes being in-person.
In the long term, conferences will have to consider the likelihood of there being NCAA Championships for each sport. In order to qualify for the postseason and sports sponsorship, some sports have to play as many as 15 conference matches. Last year, LBSU men’s water polo only played five conference games.
“There might need to be some altering,” Fee said. “The biggest piece of the puzzle would be canceling the non-conference games.”
The Pac-12 and Big Ten have already decided on a conference-only schedule for fall sports, and Fee said that’s a definite possibility for the Big West. The dates of the games would likely hold if the conference decides to keep to itself, but there’s no guarantee other conferences will make a similar decision.
“It could make it very difficult for conferences that do choose to compete in the fall,” Fee said of the postseason. “Are there going to be 64 teams overall? In some of those sports, I don’t know. That could have an impact.”
The men’s water polo team is also in the Golden Coast Conference, and entire indoor track and field program competes in the MPSF. Fee said the shutdown of anything would likely be a blanket move for the entire department, and that any penalty for cancelation of games or travel would be minimal.
“I think all of us are in a world these days know that even with the best laid plans, those could change minute by minute by minute, hour by hour,” Fee said. “I was talking to a head basketball men’s basketball coach from the Mountain West Conference. Monday was the first day of the NCAA allows men’s and women’s basketball on campus training with coaching, etc. and this coach said last week seven of his 12 players tested positive (for COVID-19). Only one of the 12 was actually cleared to begin participation Monday. That’s what a lot of schools are facing right now.”
Fee said the university is still trying to define the proper safety protocols as information changes.
“If we bring student-athletes back are we bringing positive cases onto campus? We don’t want to do that. But you don’t know until you test. Who knows? The tests could come back for our teams that nobody tested positive. But that worries me.”
No matter what the conference decides, it will be up to the universities and local health departments to determine if teams are aloud to workout and practice together on campus.
“In Los Angeles County we are in a hot zone and we may have to delay (to restart) where maybe Cal Poly San Louis Obispo has very few cases in a more rural area. Maybe they would have practicing right away, where we might have to delay for some period of time until it was approved safe.”
Fee said he’s heard that conferences are already looking at multiple versions of a delayed basketball season that still includes a March tournament.
“In theory, you start to get calendars kind of getting closer to playing sports through June,” Fee said. “We have the College World Series that goes through June already.”
“We’re going to consider everyone’s health and safety first and foremost. We love our Beach athletes, and it would be disappointing if we couldn’t watch them and cheer them on, but certainly we want to make sure they’re safe.”