Since returning to competition during the first weekend of September, NCAA football is now entering its second month of the regular season. Once the Pac-12 opens play on Nov. 7, every major conference across the country will be back in action on the gridiron.
At the lower levels, high school football remains a mixed bag. While some states have forged ahead with competition, California is among the states that have held back the start of the season, and have instead permitted teams to conduct modified off-season conditioning. While that process has had a few starts and stops along the way, high school teams have been back out on the practice fields for a few weeks or months without interruption, preparing for a return to competition in early January
Meanwhile, junior college football teams remain idle. Long Beach City College has the city’s only college football team, and the Vikings remain in a holding pattern, waiting for approval to begin in-person workouts.
In order to resume athletic activity, the school would need to file a waiver, as many four-year institutions have done across the state. LBCC Athletic Director Bill Husak says that he’s not aware of any community college in Los Angeles County that has submitted a waiver request, though he does have a plan in place for the Vikings to resume athletic activity if they are approved.
“I believe that because the presidents of the various community colleges are in such close communication, I think if they’re going to go forward, they want to to go forward in unity,” Husak explained. “Community colleges are much more closely associated, and there hasn’t been that movement right now on the part of community colleges (to resume athletics). I think presidents are just very cautious, and you have to be supportive of that attitude.”
LBCC’s head football coach, Brett Peabody, was supportive of LBCC’s administration, mentioning President Lou Ann Bynum as well as Vice President of Student Services Mike Munoz, who oversees athletics at the school. But he is concerned about the well-being of his athletes and is hopeful to bring them back to campus soon.
“I’m hopeful they’re going to decide to put in for a waiver and see what the city health department has to say,” Peabody said. “I’m just a football coach, and I know there’s a lot of concern about liability, but my thoughts are, if we put in for a waiver and they say no, we’re in the same position we are now, but if they say yes, it would be really great for our student-athletes.”
Peabody specifically mentioned a few of his players who have been faced with life-changing circumstances during the shutdown. Peabody had one player who was pulled back in with the wrong crowd and decided to enlist in the Army to regain positive structure in his life. Another player was sitting with friends in front of a house when a car pulled up and began shooting at them. While the player was able to jump a wall and get away safely, his friend was shot and killed.
“The young man had to come over to my house last week to decompress because he almost got murdered in broad daylight,” Peabody said. “Hearing that from one of your players, it’s just heartbreaking.”
Should the Vikings be able to compete in 2021, they’re scheduled to open the season at Cerritos College on Feb. 13. However, since the program has been shut down since March, players have been off the field for nearly eight months. It raises the question of how much time is needed for players to return to game shape and be able to safely compete again.
“That’s incredibly hard to gauge,” said Peabody of his players’ fitness levels. “You don’t truly know who has been doing what. I know many of our players haven’t had access to a weight room because gyms aren’t open, so you worry about the strength and conditioning aspect. Then I get bombarded with questions because Orange County junior colleges were allowed to start conditioning this week. Ventura has been conditioning for a month. So it’s starting to raise some equity concerns. How far behind will LA county schools be because we’re currently not doing anything?”
While Peabody and Husak remain hopeful for an eventual return to the practice field, there is a shared sense of urgency regarding the well-being of the student-athletes.
“It’s not just athletes, but people are struggling,” Husak admitted. “Students are struggling, kids from elementary school up through high school are struggling. Adults are struggling. I do think we have the ability to at least start conditioning. We have the ability to condition safely, to condition outdoors, to keep social distancing, and wear masks. There’s certainly the physical benefit of doing that, but also emotional and psychological benefits from exercising and being able to socialize at a distance.
“I think there’s certainly the capability to do that safely, it’s been shown that we can do it safely, but right now it’s not happening.”