At some point soon, UH-Hilo athletic director Patrick Guillen hopes to have a concrete answer to a pressing question he says he’s asked daily – without fail – by someone in the community.
When are the Vulcans going to play?
“I’m pretty confident we’ll be able to start pod play in January,” Guillen said Tuesday.
Still, the spring semester for UHH athletics could provide a new adage: It’s not whether you win or lose, it’s if you play the game.
“I’ve remained optimistic through this entire time, and I still am, but I’m becoming more realistic,” Guillen said. “So many moving parts, it’s out of my control. Everything could change tomorrow. It’s insane.”
The Pacific West Conference’s executive board, which in July suspended fall sports until 2021 over COVID-19 concerns, confirmed this week that men’s and women’s basketball also would be pushed back a few months. The league hopes to hold conference seasons or championships for all 15 of its sponsored sports – 12 of which UHH competes in – during a busy four-month period beginning in January utilizing directional pod-only scheduling that divides the three Hawaii schools and those in Southern California and Northern California.
Under a men’s basketball format being discussed, the three pod champions would meet in March in California to decide the PacWest’s automatic qualifier to the NCAA Division II tournament – “If it’s safe to travel in March,” Guillen said.
“We do at this moment have concerns about jumping on a five-hour plane ride to California, and being stuck there in case something happens.”
Guillen chairs a softball subcommittee that’s working on a scheduling concept that would include the Hawaii schools with the Southern California pod and allow for one mainland visit apiece by UHH, Hawaii Pacific and Chaminade, if it’s deemed safe to travel.
“If it’s not safe to travel in March and April, we’re going to be playing HPU and Chaminade a heck of a lot of times,” Guillen said.
He’s confident UHH’s relationship with Premier Medical Group will allow the school to meet the testing protocols that have been set in place for three tiers of sports separated by contact.
Athletes competing in sports deemed high contact – basketball, volleyball and soccer – would have to be tested once a week.
“And there are so many different things that could trigger more testing,” Guillen said.
Competitors in medium contact sports such as softball and baseball would be tested twice a month, and beyond an initial test low-risk sports golf and tennis would only require addition testing if someone showed symptoms later on.
Among the sports suspended in the fall were volleyball and men’s and women’s soccer. The PacWest has slated soccer for a January return-to-play, with volleyball set to begin later in the semester.
For all sports, UHH has targeted Monday for the resumption of small-group workouts.
“No more than 10 at a time, wearing masks, social distancing,” Guillen said. “No scrimmage or anything like that, a lot of strength and conditioning.
“Pretty strict for the first two-three weeks, basically re-socialization. After that we”ll start regular practices.”
If you see Guillen around town, don’t ask him about whether fans will be allowed at contests should the Vulcans return.
Mayor Harry Kim’s last emergency rule limits social gathering group sizes to 10 people indoors and outdoors.
With the University of Hawaii baseball team looking to fill its 2021 schedule, the Rainbow Warriors and Vuls have discussed holding a two- or three-game series at Wong Stadium. That would mark UH’s first appearance in Hilo since 2016, when the team’s split a two-game series that was attended by more than 1,500 fans.
“How would that be if we were hosting (UH) and we couldn’t have crowds?” Guillen said. “Can you imagine?”