Big West Cancels All Fall 2020-21 Sports—Directly Impacting Men’s Water Polo

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NOT coming to a pool in California anytime soon: UC Santa Barbara men's water polo. Photo Courtesy: Eric Isaacs

In a potential death knell to the 2020-21 men’s water polo season in California, the Big West Conference, which numbers Long Beach State, UC Davis, UC Irvine and UC Santa Barbara among its members, has announced the cancellation of all fall sports due to the rising COVID-19 infection rates in the Golden State.

big-west-logo-apr-17“Protecting the health and safety of our student-athletes and following public health guidelines are our top priorities,” Big West Commissioner Dan Butterly said in a statement released Friday by the Big West.

“Despite a strong desire to return our fall sport student-athletes to competition, the Board unanimously agreed that the resources and protocols needed to safely and equitably conduct fall, winter and spring sports seasons concurrently was not in line with those priorities nor in the best interests of our student-athletes and coaches.”

After the Big West announcement, Long Beach State men’s water polo tweeted that they will not compete during the 2020-21 academic year. The 49ers, Anteaters of UCI and Gauchos of UCSB compete in the Golden Coast Conference (GCC) for men’s water polo, while the Aggies of UC Davis are members of the Western Water Polo Association (WWPA) for men’s polo. Neither the GCC nor the WWPA have made recent announcements about the status of play for their respective conferences. The last GCC announcement, which postponed the fall men’s season until at least January 2021, was made last July. In past interviews, WWPA Commissioner Steve Doten has expressed pessimism regarding the viability of collegiate polo during the current pandemic.

[WWPA’s Doten on Covid-19: Lose Battle of 2020, Win War for Water Polo]

“This was a difficult decision, particularly in light of the significant sacrifices our staff, coaches, student-athletes and their families have already made in the interest of public health,” said UC Irvine Chancellor Howard Gillman, Chair of the Big West Board of Directors and University of California, “While this decision is disappointing for many, the health and safety of Big West student-athletes, coaches, staff and the campus community continue to be the preeminent priorities for the CEO’s of the conference’s 11 institutions.”

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Governor Gavin Newsome. Photo Courtesy: Rich Pedroncelli / CNBC

The precipitous rise in coronavirus cases throughout California—where new infections have gone from 3,400 infections per day on October 30 to 34,000 on December 10—prompted Governor Gavin Newsom to issue a stay-at-home order affecting the majority of the state. As part of the restrictions imposed on December 3, only physically distanced personal outdoor exercise is allowed, precluding any contact-base athletic activity.

This is not the final determination on all NCAA men’s polo competition in the state. The Mountain Pacific Sports Federation (MPSF)—which includes California schools Cal-Berkeley, Stanford, UCLA and USC—has yet to announce its response to Governor Newson’s latest COVID-19 order. On December 1, the Southern California Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (SCIAC) and its eight member schools announced the cancellation of all fall and winter conference competition for the 2020-21 academic year.

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