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Report: Football among SOU sports delayed

Try as they might, Cascade Collegiate Conference athletic directors could not find reason enough to stage fall sports.

There would be too many athletes from too many schools crossing too many borders during the COVID-19 pandemic, and daily reports show infection rates continuing to climb.

The Cascade Conference announced Friday it would move fall sports to either the winter or spring. For full-member Southern Oregon University, those are men’s and women’s cross country, men’s and women’s soccer and women’s volleyball.

The landscape was shaken further when the commissoner of the Frontier Conference, where SOU plays its football, said Monday the league would have a fall season with only its five Montana schools, leaving the Raiders to move to the spring. Southern Oregon is an associate member in the Frontier for football, as are CCC schools College of Idaho and Eastern Oregon.

The Raiders’ football schedule had already been tampered with. A month ago, the Frontier reduced the season to eight games.

According to a story Monday on the website of the Independent Record, of Helena, Montana, Frontier commissioner Kent Paulson said the conference will push ahead to play football in the fall with its Montana schools, while SOU, College of Idaho and Eastern Oregon gravitate to the spring.

The Frontier’s football plan must still be approved by the school presidents, said Paulson, and no official announcement has come from the conference. The presidents are expected to meet early next week.

Scheduling for Cascade sports, meanwhile, will get underway in the coming weeks, said Sayre, and SOU, C of I and Eastern Oregon will work in concert on the football end.

Sayre and the other Cascade ADs with football programs support the Frontier’s plan to play without them in the fall, recognizing Montana’s COVID-19 numbers are lower than many places further west.

Montana reported a total 2,741 confirmed coronavirus cases as of Tuesday. Oregon’s total had climbed to 15,139 the same day.

“If they can do it safely, that’s great for them,” said Sayre.

When the NAIA released guidelines and protocols on July 2 for the reopening of sports, the Cascade athletic directors held a conference call to go over intricate details of the lengthy document.

Sayre was among them.

“All of us were kind of scratching our heads and going, oh my goodness,” he said, “how are we going to pull this off going across four states in our conference to travel and compete.”

The conference has fall sports members in Oregon, Idaho, Montana and Washington, as well as in British Columbia, Canada, which presents complications with border restrictions.

The athletic directors were comfortable they could monitor and control their own athletes on their own campuses.

“It was just that can of worms of sending them to competitions and the protocols and testing and all the stuff that’s got to take place this fall,” said Sayre. “It had us saying, why are we rushing into this. This is tough.”

The disparity in the spread of the virus and the phases of reopening throughout the Cascade’s reach further convoluted matters.

“As we looked at it, the potential for things being problematic this fall just seemed too great for us,” said Sayre. “There are no guarantees, obviously, in the spring, either, but it gives us some time to plan and hopefully we get a handle on the virus by then so that we can compete and have a good experience for our student-athletes.”

Cascade commissioner Robert Cashell has appointed committees of administrators and coaches to present revised schedules and set standard start dates for practices.

Sayre is on the volleyball committee, along with Raiders volleyball coach Josh Rohlfing. Other SOU personnel are sprinkled throughout the various groups.

The committees will wait as other entities announce their plans and dominoes continue to tumble.

“We’re all going to hold off for a week or two while things continue to flesh out across the NAIA and within our region,” said Sayre. “So we’re really looking to see what other conferences make this move, what other institutions make this move and just kind of see how the NAIA responds to this. And then we’ll start working diligently on putting schedules together for the winter and spring.”

Opportunities for games should increase dramatically as momentum for the winter-spring option intensifies.

“I think a lot of schools and conferences are looking to this option as the best option right now,” he said.

When Cascade athletic directors met earlier, they hoped the virus would be under control by midsummer, rather than getting worse, said Sayre.

“We just decided we didn’t want to put our student-athletes in front of that freight train right now,” he said.

Reach sports editor Tim Trower at 541-776-4479 or ttrower@rosebudmedia.com.

Jamie Lusch / Mail Tribune Southern Oregon University athletic director Matt Sayre