LA GRANDE — The Cascade Collegiate Conference announced Friday it is delaying the start of the fall sports season.
The conference in a press release stated it hopes to conduct its fall schedule in the winter or spring of 2021. It also said in the release it is suspending all intercollegiate competition in CCC sports until Nov. 1 at the earliest, and will reevaluate at that time.
“The ongoing issues with COVID-19 and the surge in cases, particularly in the geographical regions of our members schools, (have) made the prospect of properly conducting a fall season with the confidence we need to ensure the health and safety of our student-athletes during this pandemic unrealistic,” CCC Commissioner Rob Cashell said in the press release.
The CCC has schools that participate in fall sports in four states — Oregon, Washington, Idaho and Montana — and in British Columbia, Canada. The conference in the release pointed to this as one of the challenges with each region being in different phases of reopening. It noted the U.S.-Canada border is still closed.
“Our desire is to minimize risk and minimize the spread of the virus,” Cashell told The Observer Friday afternoon. “We’re allowing for practices and conditioning and all that, but within a team setting. They cannot compete against outside entities.”
Women’s volleyball, men’s and women’s cross-county, men’s and women’s soccer, and men’s and women’s golf are the sports impacted by the decision. Eastern Oregon University has teams in each sport with the exception of golf.
“It’s a difficult and disappointing decision because our athletes and coaches want to compete,” EOU’s athletic director, Anji Weissenfluh, said. “This has been the longest layoff any of us have ever had. Making the best decision for our campus community, to me, the only decision to make was to postpone it, and hopefully we’re in a better spot this spring.”
EOU President Tom Insko in a press release also pointed to health as the most important factor.
“This is a tough decision, and one that I do not take lightly, but I believe we are making it in the best interest of our students, coaches, staff and fans,” he said. “Managing around this current situation to enable our teams to have stronger, healthier seasons in the spring just makes sense.”
A decision has yet to be made on winter sports, such as men’s and women’s wrestling and men’s and women’s basketball.
EOU’s football team is not impacted by the decision, as it competes in the Frontier Conference for the sport. The Frontier has not yet made a call on its plan for the fall season.
“We’ve been in close communication with the Frontier,” Weissenfluh said. “The presidents met this Monday and at that time the Frontier was leaning more (toward) being in alignment with the NAIA.”
The move could mean that the CCC’s fall teams miss out on an opportunity to compete at national championship competitions if the NAIA fall season moves forward. The NAIA earlier this month announced that for a season to start, the sport would need to have half of the teams in each sport given the green light to play. A sport with 200 teams, for example, would need to have 100 committed to the season.
Should that indeed happen, Cashell said, the conference would still aim to have a conference season and conference tournaments for its athletes.
“Our intent is to provide seasons for these teams, and it may be that we culminate with our Cascade Conference season and a Cascade Conference championship,” he said. “We’ve moved out stuff to a winter/spring set up. If the NAIA doesn’t do that we are prepared to have just our conference season and conference championship.”
The decision also could mean a level of overlap between the fall, winter and spring seasons.
“It’s very conceivable we could have volleyball games at the same time as basketball games,” he said. “We hope we’re busy. That means we’ve come a long way with the virus and have opportunities.”