ASHLAND, Ore. — The Southern Oregon University announced that it will opt out of the 2020-21 football season on Friday, even after Governor Kate Brown announced relaxations of restrictions of contact sports just three days earlier. The announcement comes after a long year of delays, postponements, and uncertainty.
In a press conference on Friday, SOU athletic director Matt Sayre and head coach Charlie Hall said SOU would have most likely played football if Governor Brown and the OHA had made a decision on relaxing restrictions for contact sports sooner.
"We're slated to play March 20th. It's just inconceivable for us to be prepared, said Hall. "One, from a player safety standpoint. Two, from a competitive balance standpoint. So it's in our best interest not to play and to end it really, practice and get ready for the 2021 fall season on our own terms."
The Cascade Collegiate Conference submitted plans to return to play back in October of 2020 but nothing ever came of it from Brown and the OHA. Sayre and Hall say it would take too long to wait for the proposal to be approved. By the time that proposal for contact practices to start was approved, it would be too close to the season to safely play games.
"We don't make this decision lightly, and know there will be some disappointed Raiders," SOU Athletic Director Matt Sayre said in the Raiders press release Friday. "But the goal is a quality, high-level playing experience, and we feel much better about our ability to provide that six months from now."
The Raiders were scheduled to play a four-game slate starting on March 20. Instead, the Raiders will not be back on the field for an official game until the fall 2021 season kicks off later this year.
The four-game schedule would have met the requirements to be able to qualify for the NAIA Championship Series. The Frontier Conference announced the four-game schedule on January 21, 2021.
"It's an extremely difficult decision and heartbreaking for our seniors who are looking at options for after college, but it is the decision that's in the best interest of our program," head coach Charlie Hall said in the press release. "We can prepare our team in a traditional manner and be ready for the fall."
This week, Governor Kate Brown announced some changes to allow for outdoor contact sports to resume at the high school level. At the collegiate level, she gave permission for schools to submit plans to return to play. Though, the CCC says that it submitted a proposal back in October of 2020. The conference says that the proposal received an initial review from the Oregon Health Authority but nothing after that.
According to the SOU press release, each of the team's seniors will be eligible to return for the fall season.
This is a developing story. As more information becomes available, this article will be updated.