Peach Belt, coaches try to plan with future in mind

Published: Jul. 24, 2020 at 7:28 PM EDT
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AUGUSTA, Ga. (WRDW/WAGT) - It’s not an easy decision to delay, postpone, or cancel an entire athletic season. The Peach Belt made the decision to delay their season’s start to October 1st, but they believe there are many advantages to this for their member schools.

“We’re in the hopes that down the road in the next 6-8 weeks, 4-6 weeks, that things will start to improve in terms of testing. And of course, that the NCAA will come out with some recommendations on testing,” said Peach Belt Commissioner David Brunk.

The hope is that testing becomes more widely available more affordable, and more accurate in that time span. Even with the optimism, not every program will be that lucky.

"There's a whole lot of uncertainty right now. We don't know what's going to happen," said USC Aiken volleyball head coach Glenn Cox.

Colleges and universities will have to be flexible with the upcoming semester. One of the main unknowns: what happens if thee's a mass outbreak and schools have to send students home like they did in the spring?

Testing is still expensive. Athletic budgets are being cut and staff members asked to take pay cuts. Without fans or some kind of revenue, paying for tests could be a challenge for most schools. Augusta University is one of the few that may not have as drastic test issues as other smaller universities could.

"We're super fortunate here at Augusta University to have all the access to quick turnaround tests and mass testing and things like that," said Augusta University cross country coach Adam Ward.

Another challenge is scheduling. Almost 40% of division two schools have announced they have either cancelled or postponed their fall seasons to January. While the Peach Belt has not decided to have a conference-only schedule, a decision on that subject is coming soon.

"I would imagine that it would be conference only, but the board will make that decision on the 6th of August," said Brunk.

The number of games is expected to decrease regardless of a conference only schedule. Fewer schools playing and more deciding to only conference games eliminates the opportunity for student-athletes to play the full schedule they signed on for.

"These kids, they're coming to play college volleyball to play games. We want to have enough games for them to play, but the NCAA has already reduced us to 20 play dates, but most people aren't even close to 20," said Cox.

On top of that, there isn’t a singular standard for testing or protocols yet. The lack of standards or requirements across all schools may also be a deterrent for any non-conference competition. Safety remains the top priority for all programs. A varying degree of caution could serve as a road block for scheduling non-conference opponents..

“Conferences and the NCAA are all kind of coming up with similar yet slightly different regulations in terms of what expected in terms of how often you test and when you test,” said Ward.

Housing could even create an issue. Should an athlete test positive for COVID-19, will their roommates have to be quarantined? What about the rest of the team?

“A lot of student athletes live together. So if one of them tests positive, then that whole apartment has been tagged for the most part,” said Ward. “I’ve just been trying to be open and honest with my student athletes that I coach. ‘Look, here’s the scenario of where we are. I know it’s not ideal, but it could be a lot worse.’”

The protocols, guidelines, and scenarios should receive some clarify early next month. The NCAA meets on August 4th. The meeting could provide clarity, or it could just as easily move the fall sports season around.

Being forced into a shorter season could have some positive benefits. With fewer games, we may see more intense competition. With fewer chances to play, athletes will also want to make the most of their reduced opportunities to play.

"These are all things that are out of our control. There's no reason to stress about things we don't have control over. When they tell us we can play, we're going to go out there and work hard and put together a pretty awesome team. And I know my team, they're so ready to practice and just get to play again," said Cox.

Whatever the shape of the college sports scene is in the Peach Belt and beyond, the upcoming fall season should show us some of the most intense and passionate competition the fall season has ever seen.

Copyright 2020 WRDW/WAGT. All rights reserved.

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