Pilots, Vikings left behind as other NCAA schools return to play

Sports

Despite having the same COVID-19 procedures in place as Oregon and Oregon state, University of Portland and Portland State University are not currently allowed to return to play

Portland State’s Chris Whitaker (30) shoots during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game against Indiana, Saturday, Nov. 9, 2019, in Bloomington, Ind. Indiana won 85-74. (AP Photo/Darron Cummings)

PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — The University of Portland is considering moving their men’s and women’s basketball practices and hosting games out of state sources tell KOIN6.

This, following Oregon Governor Kate Brown’s office saying last week they would not grant the Pilots the same exemption that is allowing their in-state Pac-12 counterparts to prepare for the 2020-2021 basketball season.

There are more than 350 NCAA Division I colleges and universities across the country, but right now, only two are not currently allowed to return to full-contact practices or competitions for the upcoming basketball season.

They are the University of Portland and Portland State University.

“They’ve been told at this time they’re not going to be allowed to compete,” said Jim Etzel, the CEO of Sport Oregon.

Sport Oregon has been in communication with Oregon Gov. Kate Brown’s office since late spring, acting as the liaison between members of their coalition, which include UP, PSU, the University of Oregon and Oregon State University, to make sure the members submit their plans and procedures to return to play according to the authorities guidelines.

According to Etzel, Portland and Portland State have submitted written plans that follow NCAA guidelines, as well as meet the standards set forth by the Oregon Health Authority, to get permission for athletes to return to play. A representative from Brown’s office says they have received Portland’s plan, but not Portland State’s.

Unlike their Pac-12 counterparts, the Vikings and Pilots were denied.

“It’s not clear [why],” Etzel said.

Etzel was complimentary of Brown’s office, empathetic towards everything they have been dealing with, from the pandemic, to the protests, to the wildfires that ravaged Oregon.

“They’ve got a massive amount on their plate,” Etzel said. “There’s so many important things but we’re the only state in the country where the governor’s office has been selective, at the collegiate level, about who gets to play and who doesn’t get to play.

“This is an equity issue – whether you’re an athlete at a Pac-12 school or you’re an athlete at another Division 1 school or Division 2 or Division 3 or NAIA school, they’re all athletes.”

The Ducks and Beavers men and women’s basketball teams have been preparing for the season, with practices beginning earlier in October. Meanwhile, Etzel says the Pilots and Vikings have been told, they have to wait between six and 12 weeks for the governor’s office to reconsider.

“At the end of the day, if we just had guidance that was consistent with what’s been provided to colleges all over the country and if you’re willing to step up institutionally then, you can play.”

In a statement to KOIN 6 News, Gov. Brown spokesperson Charles Boyle said the pause is due in part to timing, as COVID-19 infections rise across the state, and a lack of a testing plan from PSU.

“We understand the frustration many college athletes in Oregon are feeling right now,” Boyle said. “But the fact is COVID-19 cases are on the rise. The best thing we can do to bring back more indoor sports is to work together to drive down infection numbers to safe levels in communities across Oregon, by wearing face coverings, washing hands, watching physical distance, and avoiding social gatherings.”

University of Portland Vice President for Athletics Scott Leykam feels like his athletes never got a chance to get in the game.

“We were not given a chance to submit an exemption a month or two ago with Oregon and Oregon State,” said Leykam. “

Boyle said in his statement the Governor’s office has received Portland’s detailed testing plan, similar to the plans they received from Oregon and Oregon State, but went on to explain that the Governor’s office was focused on other things.

“Our office’s focus right now is stopping the increase in COVID-19 cases so that more K-12 students can return to the classroom,” Boyle said. “That unfortunately means putting on hold additional approvals for other indoor contact activities that run the risk of further spreading the disease in our communities, like indoor contact sports. We hope we can reconsider these exceptions soon.”

Leykam says he feels it’s important to be an advocate for his student-athletes.

“We submitted a plan this summer after the exemptions were given to the Pac-12,” Leykam said. “We submitted another plan and feel like we have really never had a chance to discuss the chance to play.”

For both Leykam and Etzel – the biggest issue remains equality among college programs in Oregon.

“We are the only state in the country that has selected certain schools to play and told certain schools they can’t” Leykam said.

“At the end of the day if schools are willing to meet these testing requirements,” Etzel reiterated. “We’re saying they should be cleared just like every other school in the country has been.”

Below is the full statement from Governor Brown’s office.

“One issue is timing––COVID-19 infections are surging across Oregon just as colder weather is pushing more people to gather indoors. With case counts on the rise across Oregon, our office has paused offering exemptions to additional indoor collegiate contact sports activities at this time. The OHA guidance for collegiate sports are available here (https://sharedsystems.dhsoha.state.or.us/DHSForms/Served/le3278.pdf.) Earlier in the fall, Pac-12 schools were specifically granted an exception to the collegiate guidance if they submitted health and safety protocols to the Oregon Health Authority for approval, and that exception does not extend beyond the Pac-12 at this time.

The Pac-12 also submitted a detailed testing plan which included dedicated resources for testing supplies and lab work for the University of Oregon and Oregon State. To date, we have not received a plan from Portland State. We have received a plan from the University of Portland. Our office’s focus right now is stopping the increase in COVID-19 cases so that more K-12 students can return to the classroom. That unfortunately means putting on hold additional approvals for other indoor contact activities that run the risk of further spreading the disease in our communities, like indoor contact sports. We hope we can reconsider these exceptions soon.

We understand the frustration many college athletes in Oregon are feeling right now. But the fact is COVID-19 cases are on the rise. The best thing we can do to bring back more indoor sports is to work together to drive down infection numbers to safe levels in communities across Oregon, by wearing face coverings, washing hands, watching physical distance, and avoiding social gatherings.”

– Charles Boyle, spokesperson for Oregon Governor Kate Brown’s office

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