PORTLAND, Ore — The Oregon Health Authority this week approved a plan from the Cascade Collegiate Conference of the NAIA to resume indoor competitions for the first time in nearly a year. Small colleges in Oregon have been prohibited from basketball, wrestling, and volleyball due to COVID-19 restrictions and the impact has been massive.
Governor Kate Brown’s Office gave a glimmer of hope two weeks ago. The Oregon Health Authority updated the exemption for college sports to allow NCAA Div. II & III universities and NAIA schools to submit health and safety plans. All programs are required to meet the same health and safety protocols of Division I programs in order to resume full activities including regular testing, contact tracing, isolation and quarantine.
The Cascade Conference, which has teams in Oregon, Washington and Idaho, plans to begin a shortened basketball season the weekend of March 19th and 20th with limited travel and no spectators.
“The main responsibility is making sure that these young men and women have an opportunity to play, and part of that opportunity is to minimize risk as much as possible,” said Rob Cashell, Commissioner of the Cascade Collegiate Conference.
The only schools that had been allowed to hold games and practices indoors are the four NCAA Division I schools: University of Oregon, Oregon State University, University of Portland, and Portland State University. Those athletic programs were granted waivers by the state early on to play. All other colleges and universities could not practice or play, although some members of their conferences from other states have been allowed to travel into Oregon to play.
“This has been a difficult year for Oregon’s youth athletes and, as our COVID-19 numbers have dropped, I have been committed to working with our health experts to reevaluate our protocols for sports,” said Governor Kate Brown. “School sports play an important role in fostering students’ mental, emotional, and physical health. We will proceed with caution, to ensure that teams are following health and safety precautions to protect our athletes, their families, and their communities.”
Outdoor athletic events are permitted based on county risk levels. Practices and games can resume in Lower and Moderate Risk counties following health and safety guidance from the Oregon Health Authority. Programs in High and Extreme Risk counties that offer limited in-person instruction with the goal of hybrid or full in-person instruction can opt-in to resume outdoor contact sports with “additional protocols in place such as on-site responsive testing for symptomatic individuals and close contacts, contact information for contact tracing, and a waiver identifying health and safety risks and a commitment to isolation and quarantine if exposed to COVID-19”.
FM News 101 KXL has been digging for answers since late December. We reached out to Governor Kate Brown’s Office and the Oregon Health Authority on December 28th to ask if and when the state will allow everyone else to play. Our request for comment was not returned until we followed up two weeks later.
We received the following statement on January 13th from Charles Boyle, Deputy Communications Director for Governor Kate Brown:
“Oregon’s exception for collegiate sports currently applies only to NCAA Division I schools. No other collegiate institutions are eligible to submit protocols to OHA for review at this time. Oregon’s Division I institutions spent weeks in the fall working with the doctors and health experts at the Oregon Health Authority to implement rigorous health and safety standards. COVID-19 is still spreading in our communities, and contact sports remain a high-risk activity according to public health experts. While Oregon’s Division I teams have implemented daily testing, quarantine and isolation protocols, and other health and safety measures that will help mitigate the risk of spreading COVID-19, there is no way to eliminate that risk. Governor Brown understands that this is a difficult time for all of Oregon’s athletes, from the youth level to college sports. But to expand Oregon’s sports exception would put more communities at risk. In the meantime, the best way we can all work together to bring back youth and more college sports in Oregon is to drive down the spread of COVID-19 by continuing to wear masks, maintain physical distance, avoid indoor social gatherings, stay home when sick, and get vaccinated when it is our turn.”
We asked when the state will allow additional protocols to be submitted and reviewed and were told: “COVID-19 will set the timeline for the safe resumption of indoor and outdoor sports in Oregon”. We were directed towards the state’s risk level guidance chart.
Multnomah, Lane and Benton counties are all under “Extreme Risk” which defines “gyms, indoor K-12 Sports, indoor collegiate sports, fitness organizations, indoor recreational sports, indoor pools” as prohibited. The waivers granted to the four NCAA Div. I schools overwrite these restrictions. We asked why they should be allowed to host games in an extreme risk county that go against the state’s restrictions, while the small colleges cannot? We did not receive a response to our inquiry.
Warner Pacific University in Southeast Portland is one of the schools affected.
“Governor, I appeal to you on behalf of all of our student-athletes not only at our university, but all of those in Oregon that are unable to participate,” said Warner Pacific University Athletic Director Michael Wilson. “Our kids have done everything they can to be ready to play, and we just ask for your approval”.
The impact is real for the thousands of college athletes who have worked so hard for the opportunity to compete, their coaches and athletic administration. Many of whom were not told their status or whether they should have any hope for a season.