Pacific University sports still await the word 'go'
Hurry up and wait — that's what administrators, coaches and athletes at the small-college level across the state are doing in regards to getting back on the playing field for the 2020-21 school year.
"I think, like everybody, it's still relatively unsettled in the state of Oregon," Pacific University athletic director Keith Buckley said, "And our approach has been just to continue to prepare in the hopes that at some point we get the opportunity to be back competing."
That opportunity has yet to come. Despite Division I schools like the University of Portland, Portland State University, Oregon State University and the University of Oregon again competing on the gridiron and hardwood, Division III schools like Pacific are again waiting for the opportunity to simply gather and practice.
Prior to the state's "freeze" in late November, teams were practicing — albeit in a limited capacity — in preparation for the season, come the turn of the year. Since however, it's been all Zoom, all the time for basketball, football and every other sport still hoping to get a crack at competition.
Pacific men's head basketball coach Justin Lunt said that prior to the freeze, his team had been practicing under the state's guidelines limiting physical interaction. But since then, Pacific's hoopers have been left with just virtual meetings and tutorials by way of Zoom and FaceTime. They speak, go over X's and O's, and watch film over phones and computers, preparing for what they hope will be some version of a season in the months to come.
Without a doubt, it's difficult on everyone, Lunt said. But he added he has been impressed by how his players have responded to adversity.
"It's crazy the perspective these guys have had. They've been great," Lunt said. "Some of our guys have told us how not being able to play has given them perspective on how much they miss the game. I think there's going to be a lot more gratitude going forward."
For Lunt's coaching staff, taking a constructive approach has been important, too.
"Ever since day one, I've been telling my coaching staff, we just have to be adaptable and be positive," Lunt said. "There's a lot of reasons to be complaining and be negative, we just have to choose not to do that."
Buckley said he had a Zoom meeting with all the university's athletes Dec. 22, informing them of the plan going forward. As of now, the school hopes to have students back in the coming weeks, and athletes beginning their workouts shortly thereafter — beginning with fall and winter sports, with the spring sports preparations starting towards the end of the month.
He also said they have tentative competition schedules ready to go, but those are — and will likely remain — fluid, because of the ever-changing state restrictions and requirements.
"Ever since last March to yesterday, there's been uncertainty and required pivots that have had to happen, and everybody's taken that in stride," Buckley said, "knowing that we're doing everything possible to get them an experience without putting them in harm's way."
Despite Northwest Conference constituents Lewis & Clark and Willamette officially canceling their football and both men's and women's basketball seasons on Dec. 14, Buckley said Pacific is still full-steam-ahead regarding the potential for sports this school year. He said he is working hard alongside his NWC colleagues to make the remainder of the sports year possible for all Pacific sports.
"We have not canceled any sports at this point," Buckley said. "But you also have to acknowledge that each institution is a little bit different as well. That's been a challenge, but the ADs in the Northwest Conference have all been very collaborative and supportive as we try to work through all the intricacies of what we're trying to accomplish."
Much has been made of aforementioned "bigger" Oregon schools playing, while their "smaller" brethren side idle. Buckley said there are a number of reasons for that, but he also said athletic officials at those smaller schools are watching their counterparts closely. How those bigger schools do early this basketball season could point the way — or not — for the smaller schools yet to begin practices.
Buckley said Pacific is prepared to meet the testing guidelines set forth by the NCAA, but he noted that the Division I and Pac-12 protocols far exceed those of the NCAA.
"If they're able to navigate it, then we've got a tremendous case that we ought to be given a chance or opportunity as well," he said. "But it doesn't behoove us to scream at the top of our lungs about that. We're just going to keep preparing ourselves and keep doing the right things to make sure that our student athletes are ready."
And Buckley knows this year hasn't only been difficult for sports to navigate.
"Sure, it's been tough, but I think I've seen the wear and tear on everyone," Buckley said. "I don't think that's unique to athletics, I think this has been really challenging for everybody."
"We're really lucky here," Lunt said. "Buckley and President (Lesley) Hallick have been amazing. There are so many things in our way as part of this, but I've been in this conference for 27 years, and from an administration standpoint and president standpoint, we're lucky to have them."
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