EDINBURG — The Western Athletic Conference announced Wednesday that the league will delay the start of fall sports competition in response to the ongoing novel coronavirus pandemic, allowing student-athletes, coaches and staff at each of its member institutions to make safe returns to their respective campuses.
The WAC’s announcement will push back the start of women’s soccer competition until Sept. 10 and volleyball and men’s soccer until Sept. 16, while men’s and women’s cross country, golf and tennis teams will not compete in any events before Sept. 10.
The delay in start times for fall sports will specifically be designed to allow teams to re-acclimate to training and practices after most school-sponsored summer strength and conditioning programs were canceled as student-athletes return to campus facilities.
“Two WAC committees, the Medical Advisory Group and the Contingency Planning Group, have been meeting on a weekly basis to ensure the safest manner for member institutions to conduct fall competition,” WAC Commissioner Jeff Hurd said in a written statement. “Their recommendations, which include a strong testing policy as well as a requirement for each of our institutions to put together an Emergency Action Plan, were reviewed and approved by the Board.”
The WAC’s Medical Advisory Group and Contingency Planning Group both made presentations during a board of directors meeting between Hurd and the conference’s athletic directors and university presidents, who jointly and unanimously agreed to the league’s new guidelines.
“There’s been constant communication. Our AD group has met probably two to three times these past three or four business days with a lot of offline communication, too. We’ve done a lot of work behind the scenes, and I’m really proud and impressed with what the WAC as a group has been able to do these last couple of weeks,” UTRGV Vice President and Director of Athletics Chasse Conque said.
“We established a medical committee which is made up of physicians from each institution and a team of sports medicine professionals as well. That group has been working for the last two or three weeks, if not a month, to try to better understand what we need to do as member institutions and what kind of standard protocol and standard care is going to be shared throughout the league. They made their recommendations formally today to the presidents, and so did our contingency working group because everything is contingent right now. A lot of plans have been put in place over the last couple of months and we’ve already seen the need to pivot.”
The medical advisory committee’s adopted recommendations include routine testing, temperature and wellness checks and creating a “safety officer” position for each member institution, who will serve as a liaison for visiting teams from other WAC institutions and will be committed to monitoring local public health matters.
Dr. Jimmy Gonzalez from UT Health RGV participated in the WAC’s medical advisory committee on behalf of UTRGV.
The WAC’s medical advisory committee also recommended the specific dates chosen for fall sports competition to resume based upon sport-by-sport considerations available medical data from each member institution’s local area.
The current timeline will allow all fall student-athletes about six weeks of conditioning time to prepare for a possible resumption of competition.
The WAC’s postponement of fall sports also comes a day after Cameron and Hidalgo counties issued separate public health orders that will mandate schools offer remote learning options only to start the school year and ban any on-campus athletic or extracurricular activities until in-person classroom instruction resumes.
“We feel like today’s announcement really aligns very closely to what (Hidalgo) County announced for K-12 institutions,” Conque said. “We’ve had a lot (of communication) with local health authorities, and that’s the beauty of having a school of medicine with Dr. John Krouse, the dean of our medical school, serves on the (university) president’s cabinet and Dr. Jimmy Gonzalez, a member of our school of medicine faculty as well a physician at UT Health. We are in constant communication with those folks who are very in-tune and plugged into the medical community as well as the county and the region.”
The announcement also only affects in-season competition like meets, tournaments and games, not on-campus practices or strength and conditioning training.
In total, UTRGV’s teams will miss a grand total of 28 combined athletic events due to the announcement.
Men’s and women’s soccer, which were scheduled to begin regular season Aug. 27 and Aug. 20, will miss six and eight games respectively, while the Vaqueros volleyball squad was set to start its season Aug. 28 and will have 13 of its contests canceled, effectively eliminating nonconference play.
The cross country and women’s golf teams, which were slated to start their seasons in early September, will each miss the first meet or tournament of their respective seasons.
“Rescheduling in this particular year may be tough. I think you could see a reworking of the schedule,” Conque said. “We know other (conference) announcements are coming, but I think you will see a shift in whatever non-conference schedule we are able to fit in. You may see those games change. Moving them to a later date would be difficult because then you’re already in the meat of your conference schedule.
“All contract and any games that were home-and-home series that we had coming to the Valley or games that we were to play on the road, we will work with those institutions to honor those contracts, so it’ll take us a couple of years to work through those and make sure we get all those games in over the next several seasons.”
Conque, Hurd, UTRGV and the WAC’s Board of Directors each said they will continue to monitor consistently evolving COVID-19 conditions at each WAC university campuses and make additional updates or changes as necessary too.
Conque also mentioned the WAC’s announcement has led UTRGV to re-evaluate its timeline on bringing student-athletes back to campus and reopening its athletic facilities, both of which are currently being reviewed.
“As we make these decisions and you’re the AD sitting on these calls, you’re selfishly wearing your own institution’s hat and every community is going through something different. When you’re a part of a community seeing a surge versus a community that hasn’t experienced much yet as it relates to COVID, or those communities that were a hot spot three months ago but are in a different situation now,” he said.
“In the WAC, we’re so spread out we cover almost 60% of the country as far as the communities that we serve, so it does lead to different dynamics for everyone but we definitely want to be sensitive to what we’re experiencing here in the Valley.”