Vuls tackle pandemic: travel cuts, reduced schedules top options moving forward

  • UHH photo UH-Hilo’s volleyball team celebrates a point last season at a largely empty gym on the road. The Vulcans draw well for their home matches, but just how many fans are allowed in this season amid the COVID-19 pandemic remains to be seen

In certain NCAA Division II circles, Tuesday’s news that the California Collegiate Athletic Association was canceling sports in the fall caused a ripple. Don’t expect it to reach Hawaii shores, according to UH-Hilo athletic director Pat Guillen.

The impact on Vulcans athletics, he said, should be minimal – save for nonconference scheduling cuts that already were going to be necessary amid the COVID-19 pandemic – and it won’t affect how the Pacific West Conference conducts its business.

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The latter became clear when the conference ADs talked Tuesday on a conference call, “and by that time every AD, including myself, had already communicated to our presidents and our chancellors to take the temperature,” Guillen said in a telephone interview. “There wasn’t a whole lot of surprise or movement in terms of pushing the needle one way or another.”

While the PacWest consists almost entirely of smaller private schools, UHH being the exception, the CCAA is made of 13 public schools, and “every school is like a small city,” Guillen said.

The enrollment of the smallest CCAA school, Humboldt State, is larger than each of the 11 PacWest intuitions, except for Academy of Art.

“They are big schools, and dealing with what they had to do under the timeline that they had to do it, it’s a little different than the PacWest,” he said.

The CCAA’s announcement came after the California State University system said Tuesday it plans to cancel nearly all in-person classes this fall, turning primarily to online instruction. The move casts potential doubt on upcoming games for the University of Hawaii and its fellow D-I conference members in the Mountain West and Big West. UH’s football team is scheduled to play conference road games at Fresno State, San Jose State and San Diego State, all California State schools.

“Certainly, all conversations are led by academics, as well as public health and safety,” a Mountain West statement said. “Within that framework, more determinations are necessary. All three institutions will work closely with the Mountain West. No decisions on athletics have been made.”

Most of UH’s other programs play in the Big West – such as women’s volleyball in the fall – home of California State schools Long Beach State, Cal State Fullerton, Cal State Northridge and Cal Poly.

As for UHH, the Vulcans’ volleyball team and men’s and women’s soccer squads each played CCAA teams in their nonconference schedules in the fall last season. However, Guillen said upcoming nonconference contests – such as the annual D2 West Region volleyball showdown, which also includes teams from the CCAA and the Great Northwest Athletic Conference – had largely been ruled out anyway as the school turns to tighter scheduling and reduced travel as a way of offsetting anticipated budget cuts during the pandemic.

Travel eats up the largest potion of the UHH athletic department’s expenses, and Guillen thinks reduced mainland trips can be used as a silver bullet of sorts to meet a budget that has yet to be determined. In the next week or so, he expects the NCAA Division II to set reduced maximums and minimums for contests allowed.

“Even if the budget is really, really, really bad, I’m still confident that we’re going to able to make our minimums contests (played),” Guillen said. “But hopefully we don’t have to do that, because we are cutting out a significant amount of travel already, and that is going to save us a lot of money.”

In 2019, the Vuls volleyball team played eight nonconference matches and 22 in the PacWest during the regular season. This season, Guillen can see the D-II limit being placed at 20 matches, which would set up nicely for UHH and the PacWest: each 10 schools could play home-and-homes against conference foes (Notre Dame de Namur recently dropped its athletic programs). The UHH men’s and women’s soccer teams played 16 and 17 matches, respectively, but should see scheduled reduced as well.

UHH’s volleyball and women’s basketball teams each made three mainland regular season trips last season, and the men’s basketball team made four, but Guillen said “That won’t happen this year.”

“With all of this talk in the conference, we’ve been talking about minimizing mainland trips as much as possible for every sport, not just fall sports, and we’ve accomplished that,” he said.

Of course, a lot can change in the coming weeks or months – or not change. An extension of Hawaii’s mandatory 14-day quarantine law for travelers would effectively shut out California schools from visiting. On Tuesday, Los Angeles County officials recommended their stay-at-home order be extended until August. PacWest schools Biola and Azusa Pacific would be affected if the order lasted into the fall.

Anticipating home volleyball matches this season, Guillen said the department has a group working toward setting protocols and guidelines for fans should social distancing be used

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“Do we work on a lottery system for attendance, because our gym holds 1,000 fans,” he said. “There is no way we’re going to be able to get 1,000 fans in with social distancing. Do we cut it down to 300 and do a lottery system or first-come, first-served?

“Do we provid live streaming? Do you have to come to the game with a mask and only (let in) so many people at a time? There is a lot that we need to work through, and we’re making good progress.”

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