July 17 was the date that the California Community College Athletic Association (CCCAA) had circled on its calendar as the time where a decision would be made as to the future of sports for all junior and community college athletics as a result of the continuing COVID-19 pandemic. The CCCAA didn’t wait until the 17th and made its decision more than a week early.
As of July 8, it was decided that all sports will not begin until the beginning of 2021 and all sports will lose 30% of its games. The two seasons will be known as early spring and late spring. Basketball, cross country, football, women’s golf, soccer, women’s volleyball, water polo and wrestling will be part of the early spring season, while badminton, baseball, beach volleyball, men’s golf, softball, swim and dive, tennis, track and field and men’s volleyball will be played in the late spring season.
The current plan is to have the early spring season practices start Jan. 18, 2021, and end April 17, 2021. The late spring season practices will begin March 27 and conclude June 23. While the target date to have athletics begin practice is January, that decision will still be centered around state and local health guidelines.
“I know I speak for the entire CCCAA board that moving fall athletics to spring 2021 is a huge disappointment,” said Dr. Erika Endrijonas, board chair and president of Pasadena City College in a statement on the CCCAA website. “However, the need to keep our student-athletes and the amazing coaches and athletic trainers who work with them safe was simply the only option available with the virus spiraling out of control across the state.”
At Columbia College, Rob Hoyt’s Claim Jumper men’s basketball team will be guaranteed to play 22 games, rather than 28 of years’ past. While he’s losing a number of preseason games along with having to start practice nearly two months later, he understands why the decision was made.
“It’s just an adjustment,” Hoyt said. “It’s not a positive or negative; it’s just a change. And because it’s across the board and it’s not just Columbia, it’s on us to try and make this a positive situation for the student-athletes and we have a plan in place to do so.”
Like many coaches, Hoyt was concerned with the unknown surrounding the future of junior college athletics. But that wasn’t the only thing on his mind over the last few months. Hoyt was concerned that his basketball program and Columbia women’s volleyball might not be viewed as a top priority in the eyes of the Columbia administration and perhaps those programs might be cut.
Fortunately for Hoyt, that wasn’t the case.
“I was worried about the programs at Columbia College because we only have two sports,” Hoyt said. “And on top of the virus, there are also a great deal of budget cuts. I didn’t know which way the school was going to go and they’ve completely supported and backed athletics, which is a blessing to be surrounded by people who think that way, because they don’t have to.”
Hoyt is known as a coach who will put players on his roster from anywhere in the United States. With COVID-19 changing the way he gets players, Hoyt had to not only figure out where to find a new crop of talent, but he had to figure out a way to get them to Columbia, even with the uncertainty of having a season still on the table.
“There are certain things that I do every spring that I wasn’t able to do because of COVID,” Hoyt said. “We looked much closer to areas like Fresno and Modesto. We really looked a lot deeper into those areas, rather than out of state. We had to pivot and there’s no room to feel sorry for yourself and just figure out a way to get it done.”
Hoyt isn’t the only one who is trying to figure things out on the fly. The Modesto Junior College football team was close to starting summer practices and will now have to wait until January to hit the field. Even though Modesto won’t be kicking off the season in September, recruiting coordinator Kirk Peterson is content knowing there is still a plan to have a season.
“We are really all very happy and relieved to hear that there is a plan in place to have a junior college football season, even though it will obviously look very different than past seasons,” Peterson said. “Coach (Rusty) Stivers has put a positive spin on it when communicating with our staff and players, saying that it gives us an extra few months to get bigger, faster and stronger.”
Peterson also feels that the delay in the season will actually benefit some players who are still trying to get healthy and cleared to play. For some, this could be a blessing in disguise.
“The only change I have seen is that some student-athletes who didn’t think they would be able to play this season because they are recovering from injuries are more optimistic about playing because of the additional time to rehab,” Peterson said. “It will definitely feel weird to play in the winter, but we plan on making the best of it.”
At Columbia, Hoyt is thrilled that there is still a plan to have sports played, but he isn’t trying to fool himself into thinking that things won’t change should the COVID-19 situation not improve. And with that, he feels there is an even bigger responsibility on his shoulders to do what is best for the student-athletes he has recruited to play basketball on his team.
“The most important thing when you’re working with student-athletes – or anybody – is trust,” Hoyt said. “As of now, July 13, we have a season and are 100% go, as of today and we are going to act accordingly. If that changes, it’s not me bailing on these kids. Coaches are going to find out their worth really quickly and it has nothing to do with wins and losses. A coach’s worth is going to be put to the test during these trying times. For me, I’m in it with these 14 guys, and as long as they choose to ride this out with me, I’m going to do everything that I can for them. I will always do what’s in the best interest of those guys and they know that.”