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Smaller Oregon schools continue to play waiting game

While Division I athletic programs in Oregon have been in full swing since the fall of 2020, smaller colleges are left watching the D-I teams play their seasons.

Posted: Jan 12, 2021 9:23 PM
Updated: Jan 12, 2021 9:25 PM

MEDFORD, Ore. — Contact sports in Oregon, like football and basketball, are prohibited under state mandate... unless you're a Division I program. Oregon, Oregon State, University of Portland and Portland State are all playing basketball this winter along with other contact sports.

Meanwhile smaller NCAA and NAIA schools in Oregon are simply left in the dust. For Cascade Collegiate Conference members Southern Oregon University and Oregon Institute of Technology, it's frustrating for them seeing some Oregon student-athletes competing while they're barred from playing.

"We realize we're not [a Pac-12 school], but you know, we would have liked some guidance on what to do and how to go forward, but it didn't happen," Justin Parnell, the head coach of the men's basketball program at Oregon Tech, said.

The guidance they were looking for was from the Oregon Health Authority when the CCC submitted a 'Return to Play' proposal back in October of 2020. According to the Cascade Conference's commissioner Robert Cashell, it received an initial review from the OHA in November, but nothing more came from their proposal.

"We were certainly anticipating, some back and forth or some suggestions or some comments of, you know, this is great or this isn't great. We need you to do this or do that," Cashell said in an interview with NewsWatch 12 Sports. "We've never attained that level of communication."

NewsWatch 12 Sports reached out to the Governor's Office and OHA as to why the CCC's proposal never went past the review stage. The governor's deputy communications director sent a statement via email saying:
"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."

According to Cashell, one of the more frustrating parts is the Cascade Conference was never offered a chance to work directly with the OHA to make sure their guidelines were just as thorough as the ones laid out by Division I programs.

"It's frustrating. That's what strikes you first I think the first thing that jumps out to anybody is where's the equity, right?" Cashell said. "How do you explain to those young men and women [at CCC schools] that they can't play, but yet Oregon and Oregon State can bring in teams from Washington, Montana, California that are in our national organization to play."

The Cascade Conference's proposal was created with the help of member school's athletic trainers, health officials made available by the NAIA, and Dr. Sarah Comstock, a professor and biologist at Corban University. The CCC has established a partnership with Santiam Hospital to do weekly PCR testing via SalivaDirect tests. All tests would be processed by Dr. Comstock in a certified lab.

Cashell said the reason they opted for weekly PCR testing as opposed to daily antigen testing similar to the Pac-12 was a balance of budget and accuracy of testing. According to the conference's return to play proposal, the SalivaDirect PCR test has a false-negative rate of 7.3 percent. In antigen testing, false negatives can occur about 30 percent of the time and "likely requires a follow-up PCR test."


RELATED: SOU shuts down athletics practices after two people test positive for COVID-19


Every student-athlete, coach and vital members of the team's staff would be tested weekly using the SalivaDirect method for high and medium contact sports. Athletic trainers for teams would also conduct daily symptom screening. Also, schools would provide their own, fully-trained contact tracers to quickly work with local health authorities to note which additional athletes may be at risk for contracting the coronavirus.

The 'Return to Play' proposal goes on to list how teams can return to play if they have to pause team activities because of a potential outbreak amongst the team.

Since late October, the Cascade Conference has begun testing teams that were in session to make sure their process was running smoothly as teams prepared to return to the field in states like Washington, Idaho, and California. Since the first week of testing, the Cascade Conference has administered 1,459 tests with 28 positive cases, a positivity rate of 1.92 percent. In the latest weekly report from the OHA, Oregon's test positivity rate as a state is 7.5 percent.

Despite all the measures the Cascade Conference has ready to put into full effect, Oregon has not issued an exception for non-NCAA Division I programs to play contact sports.

"We're real hopeful that we're going to be able to make some headway and get our teams playing in March and April," Cashell said. "It's not lost on anybody that this is a serious deal and no one's trying to make light of it or think that, you know, athletics is more important than someone's life."

Oregon Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 570892

Reported Deaths: 5936
CountyCasesDeaths
Multnomah94163940
Washington68918461
Marion55435570
Clackamas49836458
Lane44086397
Deschutes37530225
Jackson34484417
Linn20528221
Umatilla19500190
Douglas16386323
Yamhill13914168
Josephine13233291
Polk11966115
Benton1128646
Klamath11286179
Coos8563128
Malheur697096
Columbia599667
Jefferson587971
Lincoln530462
Crook467262
Union415665
Wasco392050
Clatsop369737
Tillamook293554
Hood River286638
Baker274440
Curry260141
Morrow256926
Grant137418
Harney130535
Lake116823
Wallowa99213
Sherman2333
Gilliam2254
Wheeler1722
Unassigned00

California Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 7691930

Reported Deaths: 78616
CountyCasesDeaths
Los Angeles249409728480
San Diego6675684559
Riverside5351265623
San Bernardino5138486267
Orange5098915953
Santa Clara2579941993
Sacramento2477782623
Alameda2149391575
Fresno2010802429
Kern1961251974
Contra Costa1628091091
Ventura1556551256
San Joaquin1467261960
Stanislaus1156521517
San Francisco109859702
Tulare1071131211
San Mateo101729647
Santa Barbara72722589
Monterey70370651
Sonoma70038432
Solano67327391
Placer58374513
Merced57147727
Imperial52057820
San Luis Obispo45057385
Kings43195396
Santa Cruz35593237
Madera33030336
Butte32484350
Yolo32382273
Shasta30590512
Marin30486253
El Dorado24845179
Napa20803111
Sutter18472199
Humboldt15471129
Yuba14050103
Nevada13685112
Tehama12228142
Mendocino11943111
San Benito1115391
Tuolumne997991
Lassen899459
Lake8639118
Amador706473
Unassigned63543
Calaveras600695
Siskiyou580162
Glenn547039
Del Norte436843
Inyo388050
Colusa384021
Mono28264
Plumas244912
Mariposa234519
Trinity116719
Modoc8626
Sierra2760
Alpine1190
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