Maricopa fall sports moved to spring

The Maricopa County Community College District (MCCCD) will delay all fall sports activities until the spring semester.

MCCCD made the district-wide decision on July 16 in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. It prevents student athletes from participating in activities and competition for the fall semester sports of volleyball, basketball, soccer and cross-country.

Both volleyball and basketball will be able to begin practices on Jan. 11, while soccer will begin on March 15. The district is in talks with state officials to find an alternative spring schedule for cross-country. 

“We recognize the challenge to offer athletic programs in a manner that meets safety guidelines,” said MCCCD interim Chancellor Steven R. Gonzales in a press release. “This decision was not made lightly, the well-being and safety of our community remain our number one driving force as we adjust to the affects of COVID-19. We will follow the recommendations from our College Presidents, Vice Presidents of Student Affairs, Athletic Directors, and NJCAA as we plan for Spring Athletic programs.”

The decision comes after lengthy deliberation from district athletic directors, college presidents, players and coaches on whether sports should be cancelled, delayed or resumed as normal.

“We did not want the entire year just completely cancelled,” said Mesa Community College (MCC) Athletic Director John Mulhern. “Our message was let’s give ourselves a chance, and that’s kind of how it turned out.”

Chancellor Gonzalez held two virtual community hearings for the public’s perspective.

According to Matt Hasson, MCCCD’S Chief Communications Officer MCCCD, many community members voiced that cancelling sports was necessary because it put players and coaches at risk. Conversely, many parents of student athletes came to support their child’s pursuit of athletics and its opportunities.

“We heard both sides… Everyone was great. Everyone provided valuable feedback from their perspective,” Hasson said. 

Aiding the district’s decision was the National Junior College Athletic Association (NJCAA), which governs many junior college sports. Three days beforehand, the NJCAA made their own endorsement to push autumn sports to early 2021. 

“It certainly played a role in our decision,” Hasson said. “But we were already talking about what we are going to do to protect our students when they [NJCAA] came out with that follow-up decision on their own.”

MCC is one of the ten colleges affected by the pause on fall athletics. Since its establishment in 1965, MCC has never had a fall season without sports.  The delay will impact well over a hundred athletes and coaches. Although physical activities such as practice and games are prohibited until Jan. 1, coaches will be able to continue recruiting and assisting their players virtually. 

“We’re still trying to work with student athletes virtually with their academic success, their mental health and physical health,” said Mulhern. “Behind the scenes, we are still pushing, and communicating and making sure that everything is in place to be successful for the spring.”

Spring seems to be when players will return to fields and courts, but the district will hold an evaluation on Oct. 1 to determine if spring athletic competitions are viable. Athletes and coaches will be notified by Nov. 25 whether spring sports will still occur.

“You can put all these plans in place, and all it takes is one incident and you’re back to zero,” Mulhern said. “The only thing this has done is give us an opportunity to monitor and discuss, but ultimately COVID-19 is going to determine everything.”

Player safety has been a hot button issue as many college conferences try to navigate the dangers of COVID-19 and the ambition to play normally.  Northern Arizona University recently learned its football season would be pushed to the spring after the Big Sky conference opted to keep its players off the field in the fall. 

The PAC-12 conference, home to Arizona State University and University of Arizona athletics, recently proposed a ten-game schedule in the fall. This plan may be stalled, as the PAC-12 and other Power Five conferences held an emergency meeting on Aug. 9 to discuss postponing athletics into the spring. 

As of Aug. 12, the state of Arizona has over 188,443 COVID-19 cases with 127,188 and over 2,000 deaths in Maricopa County.

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