Amid challenges, Pacific Athletics optimistic for return to action
Athletic Director Janet Lucas said optimism reigns as Pacific awaits a potential go-ahead from the NCAA for its 325 student-athletes in 17 sports to return to campus.
The potential return of intercollegiate athletics at University of the Pacific remains a moving target, prompting multiple layers of planning amid an abundance of uncertainty.
The NCAA shut down athletics in mid-March due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
However, Athletic Director Janet Lucas said optimism reigns as Pacific awaits a potential go-ahead from the NCAA for its 325 student-athletes in 17 sports to return to campus.
“We have an amazing group of student-athletes, coaches, staff and administrators who have been incredibly flexible and nimble during this whole situation,” Lucas said. “We remain optimistic. The most important thing, though, is for the university as a whole to determine and announce its intentions.”
Essentially, there are three possibilities in 2020–21: All sports start and continue on time; some or all sports are delayed; some or all sports do not compete.
“It is daunting and challenging,” said Chris Pond, director of athletic training for the past 29 years. “Think of it like this: It was as if each student-athlete had a season-ending injury all at once. It was a virtual shutdown of sports operations. That is a lot from which to recover.”
Coaches, trainers and the athletic performance staff designed remote workouts for student-athletes, although interaction is limited due to NCAA guidelines.
How effective has this been?
“A lot of it depends on the athlete and how driven they are to succeed,” said Adam Reeves, men’s soccer coach. “By no means is this easy. It is hard when you are not structured. But there can be benefits. In a practice, for instance, a player might touch the ball 500 times. Give that same player a ball and a wall and they can get thousands of touches to stay sharp.”
Student-athletes have received support from the Cowell Wellness Center and Counseling and Psychological Services. Telemedicine resources have been available.
When student-athletes return, there is no light switch to flip to re-engage competitive sports. Lucas said a systematic, departmental approach is crucial. She has formed four committees:
- Steering Committee (chaired by Lucas);
- Student-Athlete Well-Being Committee (chaired by Pond);
- Facilities and Events Committee (chaired by Sydney Shelton, director of athletic facilities and events operations);
- Messaging, Branding and Communications Committee (chaired by Lucas).
“The first thing we will do when the athletes return to campus is get their physicals and make sure they are ready,” Pond said. “There is concern about being susceptible to injuries. We reacclimatize with them and make sure everyone is healthy.”
Pacific will play more teams from western states this year. Because of COVID-19, teams have cut cross-country trips or hosting teams from outside the region. There can be benefits: Pacific will host both University of California, Berkeley and Stanford University in men’s soccer.
“From my standpoint, the sooner the better as far as getting them on campus,” Pond said. “Preparation and care are going to be essential this year. Also, we miss the students a lot. We would love to see them back and getting ready to compete.”
Recent social justice tragedies have added another element for Pacific Athletics. Student-athletes, coaches and others in the program have been active on social media in support of Black Lives Matters and the black community.
“Been a week and I still can’t put all that’s transpired into words. I’m angry, disappointed, and terrified for my 2 boys, my players, and the countless number of black males/females out here who fear for their lives every day,” men’s basketball Coach Damon Stoudamire wrote in a Tweet.
Reeves will focus his next team Zoon meeting on what has happened in Minnesota and elsewhere. “Soccer, in general, is the world’s game and is very diverse. Our program is as inclusive as any in the country,” he said. “It is vital to have these discussions and to put talk to action.”
Lucas released a statement, which read, in part, “Regardless of our skin color, or what uniform we wear, stand up for what is right. We must stand with those in our communities who have suffered from racial injustice far too long.”