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Thursday, June 1, 2023
June 1, 2023

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NWAC in holding pattern for basketball

Executive director hopes delay will lead to fewer future cancellations

By , Columbian staff writer

The emerging omicron variant, holiday gatherings further spreading the virus and cancellations across other college and professional sports were all factors in the Northwest Athletic Conference’s decision to delay men’s and women’s basketball by two weeks, NWAC executive director Marco Azurdia said.

The NWAC announced Wednesday the scheduled Jan. 5 date for teams to begin conference play was pushed back to the week of Jan. 17.

That decision followed discussions with the conference’s executive board, sports medicine advisory committee and representatives from member schools across Washington, Oregon, Idaho and British Columbia.

In a phone interview Wednesday, Azurdia said the hope of this preemptive move is to reduce future cancellations due to COVID-19, thus keeping most of the conference schedule and postseason intact.

“What we’re trying to do is provide as normal a league season as we possibly can,” Azurdia said. “The reality is, if we want to strip it all down, the most important games on the schedule are league games, because that’s what gets you to the championship. So, trying to make sure that we reduce the amount of potential cancellations because of COVID.”

With students traveling home for winter break over the latter half of December and potentially gathering in large groups, the NWAC’s sports medicine advisory committee anticipated an uptick in positive cases when students return to campuses the first week of January.

Rather than resume competition shortly after classes begin (Jan. 3 for Clark College), NWAC decision-makers believe the added two weeks will give athletes adequate time to get tested, follow the protocols in place and quarantine or isolate if necessary.

Azurdia said teams are still permitted to gather, but not play games during the pause.

“We want them to be together, we want them to have as normal an experience as they can,” Azurdia said. “It’s just, once they get on campus, I don’t want to say lock them in, but let’s keep them there, let’s really get them to focus on what they need to focus on, get tested and get the holiday weekend(s) behind us so we can go forward.”

Wednesday’s announcement, which was posted on the conference’s website, also suggested the sports medicine advisory committee could adjust COVID protocols for basketball.

Azurdia said the committee of athletic trainers, a physician, athletic directors and coaches from member schools met Wednesday evening and agreed they need additional time to review information before making any changes. The committee is scheduled to meet again next week.

“There’s no cookie-cutter approach to all of this,” Azurdia said. “It’s a fluid process, so before we make any significant changes, we want to make sure we’ve got our ducks in a row.

“That’s one thing, in all honesty, that’s hard for coaches and other people to understand, the reality is we’re not going to rush decisions. We’re going to be deliberate, we’re going to be thoughtful and know that whatever decision we make is probably going to create more issues or different issues that not everybody’s going to agree with. But we’re going to be deliberate and thoughtful about it.”

As their schedules currently stand, the Clark men’s and women’s basketball teams are slated to start NWAC South Division play Jan. 19 at Chemeketa in Salem, Ore.