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Cascade Conference pushes basketball back to January

The hope of seeing college athletics played locally before the end of the calendar year took one last major hit Tuesday, as the Cascade Conference announced it is pushing back the start of the men’s and women’s basketball seasons until January after a vote by the CCC’s Council of Presidents.

The conference, citing a surge in COVID-19 cases across its footprint in Oregon, Washington and Idaho as well as Oregon schools still awaiting approval from the governor’s office to have full-on practices, was supposed to begin play the first weekend of December.

Some schools, including the Southern Oregon University men’s team, had nonconference games scheduled the week before conference play was to start — the Raiders were scheduled to play two games against Oregon Tech on Nov. 24 and 28 — but those have been wiped out as well.

Now, like so many other things this year, SOU and the other schools across the conference will have to wait for their season to start — again.

“Everybody’s tried to stay optimistic, but yeah, you kind of saw the writing on the wall with where things are headed,” SOU head women’s basketball coach Alex Carlson said. “Everybody wanted to do the right thing and be safe, so you expected this to happen. Again, you see it across the entire sports landscape with SEC football games getting canceled, so it’s just kind of the reality of what we’re living in right now.”

“We’ve pretty much thought it was going to end this way anyway. We were not thinking we were going to practice in November,” SOU head men’s basketball coach Brian McDermott said. “We knew all along we would have to get the governor to change things, and with the case counts going up so much in not only Jackson County but all over, we knew that that wasn’t very realistic. It’s not a big surprise, but we just have to keep our fingers crossed that we can start to make some progress on the pandemic and maybe we can play in January.”

With Tuesday’s decision, all of the CCC’s fall and winter sports have been postponed to 2021 as a result of the pandemic.

The conference did not specify when in January the season would begin, only adding that the revised basketball schedules would be “available at a later date.”

Due to the uncertainty amid the pandemic, the NAIA announced last week it would not charge student-athletes in fall and winter sports a year of eligibility this year.

“For us, I guess right now is how we’re going to handle both holidays, Thanksgiving and Christmas, knowing that if you do send kids home they’re going to have to test and take some time off before that test,” McDermott said.

With the season now set to begin in January, the CCC will have to get creative if it wants to maintain a full slate of games prior to postseason play.

Teams need a minimum of 15 games to qualify for potential selection into the NAIA national tournament — which is scheduled to begin in mid-March with first-round games at campus sites before shifting to Kansas City.

“As a conference, we start with what we know and work backwards from there — what the home venues look like, when do we cancel events if somebody is having an uncontrolled break of the virus and somebody is traveling to that location,” SOU athletic director Matt Sayre said in an interview last month. “We work backwards from there.”

The CCC released details on its virus testing plan for athletes last week — which includes weekly testing, daily screening and what is described as “stringent procedures for mitigating against the introduction and spread of COVID-19.”

The conference will work with Santiam Hospital in Stayton to conduct the PCR testing, a saliva-based test that has a false-negative rate of as low as 7.3%.

So far, the CCC has conducted two weeks worth of COVID-19 testing, with 748 samples tested and only seven coming back positive, good for a 0.99% positivity rate.

In announcing its testing plan last week, the CCC said: “The conference basketball teams conducted a trial of the testing procedures to verify the process meets expectations.”

Sayre has previously said that he supports the testing plan the Cascade Conference has put into place for its athletes.

“We’ve had to have a few guys who have had to quarantine because of positives with somebody else, but we haven’t had any positives,” McDermott said. “With that kind of a rate when you’re talking about 18- to 22-year-old folks, I think that’s a fairly impressive rate to do it with the resources that we have.”

Prior to Tuesday’s announcement, both SOU teams had been preparing for the start of the season with the major caveat of there being no contact because Gov. Kate Brown’s office has not granted clearance for it. While some Raider sports, such as soccer and volleyball that aren’t considered full-contact, can practice — albeit with strict precautions in place — the basketball teams have yet to scrimmage at all this fall.

While all of Oregon’s four NCAA Division I schools have gotten clearance, everybody from D-2 on down to the NAIA are still in a holding pattern when it comes to getting approval from the state to conduct full practices again.

And while the CCC pushing back the season to January buys a little more time before games are supposed to start, they can’t happen until the governor gives approval.

“It’s obviously hard for these kids because our athletes are excited about things and it’s being taken away,” Carlson said. “Everybody’s gone through so much disappointment, so our big thing is that we’ve switched to just saying, ‘Hey, let’s control the controllable.’ If we start worrying about what’s happening with the government and these things that are 100 percent out of our control, it’s not going to be good for us.”

Reach Danny Penza at 541-776-4469 or dpenza@rosebudmedia.com. Follow him on Twitter @penzatopaper.

Southern Oregon University head women's basetkabll coach Alex Carlson talks with players during the CCC Tournament final against OIT at Mountain Avenue Gym on Feburary 29, 2016.(Photo by: Larry Stauth Jr)