ASHLAND, Ore--- Southern Oregon University Athletic Director Matt Sayre is announcing that the SOU Basketball, Volleyball, and Cross-Country programs will opt out of the upcoming Cascade Collegiate Conference Schedules because of concerns surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic. The announcement was made on Thursday. The programs will also opt out of NAIA national postseason competition.
"I think as we dug deeper into it, we just realized that the sports we decided to opt out of, the realities of getting a season in safely before NAIA playoffs and really making that a pinch point on our student athletes was really not a viable option for us," said Sayre.
According to SOU Athletics, the CCC basketball schedule had already been delayed to January 8, 2021. The CCC volleyball schedule was also moved from the fall to late January. The CCC Cross County schedule was also placed on a revised timeline that would eventually overlap with the Outdoor Track and Field season.
As far as national postseason competition goes, SOU Athletics says that it would require all three sports to travel to the Midwest.
"The health and well-being of our student-athletes and staff take top priority for us, and we also have a responsibility to do right by the local community that supports us," said Sayre. "In the light of the continued COVID-19 surge in our region we feel alignment with a conference and NAIA schedule is unrealistic and unsafe at this time. We will continue to look for opportunities to allow our volleyball and basketball student-athletes to compete when and where it is safe to do so. Our outstanding distance runners can maintain hope that a spring outdoor track season will remain viable."
CCC Commissioner Robert Cashell responded to SOU's decision by saying, "The COVID-19 pandemic continues to affect each institution and community differently, and we certainly respect SOU's decision. None of these choices come easy, but as a conference we fully support the need for campus leadership to do what they feel is best as we all continue to navigate the situation."
SOU Athletics says that the basketball and volleyball programs will continue to look for safe alternatives to play and travel later in the spring. The NAIA allows for that flexibility with a recently passed rule stating that fall and winter athletes will not be charged a season of competition no matter the schedule.
SOU's Cross-Country squad will turn its attention to Outdoor Track and Field.
Sayre says that the decision to opt out came after conversations with the coaches and student-athletes from each sport.
"As much as they want to play, and as much as they love their sport and don't want to see their sport skip a year," said Sayre. "They see, after we had a meeting with them, they see the reality of the situation and understand why we are doing it."
While Jackson County's current standing of "Extreme Risk" of COVID-19 transmission played a significant role in the decision, Sayre also credited the situations across each program in the CCC.
"The landscape for the whole CCC is bad," said Sayre. SOU Athletics says transmission rates are significantly higher in several out-of-state counties were CCC schools are located.
As of now, SOU's football, soccer, softball and track and field seasons will go on as scheduled. The earliest start of competition would be in February.
SOU Wrestling is in a unique situation because it is not beholden to set a conference schedule. SOU Athletics says that wrestling would already be in midseason competition but it will hold out in hopes that conditions improve in time for the postseason.
This is a developing story. NewsWatch 12 Sports will continue to update this article as more information becomes available.