Canzano: Oregon Gov. Kate Brown is officially adrift in college sports sea

Oregon Gov. Kate Brown must be drowning. There’s no other reasonable explanation for what’s happening when it comes to the events of the last few weeks involving college athletes in our state.

I can’t imagine it’s enjoyable to be lobbied on the COVID-19 front by an assortment of business groups, political entities, schools, unions and citizens. Gov. Brown has to be buried in a sea of requests to re-open, re-asses and provide fresh guidelines.

It’s the only possible explanation.

As it stands, there are 350 Division I colleges in America. Only two of them are prohibited by their respective state from being allowed to practice basketball. Any guess which two are at a staggering competitive disadvantage as the college basketball season approaches?

Answer: Portland State and University of Portland.

Officials at both universities did not respond to requests for comment. Why would they? Both receive state funding. They’re essentially gagged. But athletes, many of which grew up in this state, are now mobilizing. I won’t be surprised when they organize, lawyer-up and file a suit against our state that might be avoided with 90 seconds of sensical thought today.

Oregon and Oregon State men’s and women’s basketball programs were cleared for full-contact practices weeks ago. The Ducks and Beavers slid in under the exemption that Gov. Brown issued that was mostly intended to clear both university football programs for full-contact practices.

The Pac-12 provided operating procedures that included safe protocols for rapid-result testing and quarantine guidelines. Gov. Brown’s office along with the Oregon Health Authority granted an exemption. Portland State and UP saw that, copied the same guidelines, mirroring the request, and got told, “Go fish.”

I believed Gov. Brown over the summer when she announced she wouldn’t place our state’s athletes at a competitive disadvantage. But here they are. I’m left wondering if she’s simply drowning in bureaucratic requests, wildfire fallout, and protest hell, unable to see that she’s crushing the smaller-profile universities in our state. That’s not to mention the photo ops and appearances. I can’t imagine it’s been a fun six months for her. But someone needs to throw the governor a floatation device, get her a towel and ask her to spend a minute or two considering the inequity she’s caused.

The Pilots and Vikings need a fair shake. They need their request for exemption reconsidered. And if that request is not approved, they need to be told exactly what they need to do to be cleared like the Ducks and Beavers to practice.

College sports programs in other states have encountered strict county guidelines that required them to relocate practices. San Jose State, for example, was prohibited by Santa Clara County from starting full-contact football activities. It moved fall-camp practices to Humboldt County. But that was a county speed bump, not a state roadblock.

UP and PSU are prohibited from practicing anywhere in our state. That includes Benton or Lane County, where Oregon and OSU currently hold full-contact practices on a daily basis. They also can’t move out of state into Washington to practice. Oregon’s governor has them in a headlock.

Jim Etzel at SportOregon is one of the few people who will talk publicly about the issue. His organization is charged with being the liaison between the sports entities and our state officials. Etzel struck a diplomatic stance early Thursday morning. He pointed out that Gov. Brown and her staff have performed admirably under tough circumstances.

“They have a ton of issues on their plate, not just with COVID but with wildfires going on,” Etzel said. “But we’re the only state where the governor’s office has been selective at the collegiate level on who gets to play and who doesn’t get to play.”

Think about the inequity of that. The damages, too. Imagine the frustration of athletes, coaches, donors and administrators. And just wait until the national media hears that Oregon’s governor opened the gates for the state’s high-profile universities to get going while acting as if Portland State and University of Portland just didn’t matter.

Said Etzel: “An athlete is an athlete.”

Athletes at UP and PSU will transfer. Recruits won’t come, either. Also, Oregon and Oregon State’s basketball programs will soon realize they’re not going to be able to play the Vikings and Pilots, as planned. The Ducks and Beavers will have to look to out-of-state competition if they’d like a game before Pac-12 play. I can’t see how traveling out of state for a game against a small college is safer than hosting another in-state university following the same guidelines.

This just doesn’t make any sense. I’ve asked Gov. Brown’s office for an explanation, and when/if they provide one, I’ll pass it along. But the wise solution here is for our state’s highest-ranking official to come to her senses today and allow the Vikings and Pilots the same opportunity she gave to the Beavers and Ducks.

Frequent testing. Smart protocols. Safety, first. All of that takes the stress and burden off local health resources. Those best practices are working for everyone nationally and they’re working for OSU and Oregon locally.

PSU and UP don’t have anywhere near the athletic-department budgets of a Pac-12 university. But the Vikings and Pilots do compete for the same lucrative NCAA Tournament shares. Not sure if the Governor even knows that. They could even potentially play in a first-round game.

When Gov. Brown’s office cleared Oregon and OSU the Pilots and Vikings studied the exemption and decided to commit the financial resources to rapid-result testing 5-7 times a week. It’s a huge expense, but one they know they have to accept. Their paperwork looks like a Zerox of what the Pac-12 universities submitted.

That initial request for an exemption was denied several weeks ago. It was denied for a second time earlier this week. On Wednesday, a source in Salem said that the state’s most recent denial included instructions for UP and PSU to try to submit a follow-up request for exemption again in “six to eight weeks.”

Six to eight weeks?!

That timeline shuts down the college basketball season for only two of the nation’s 350 Division I universities. The rest of the country will play on without them. There’s only one reasonable explanation for this — our Governor must be drowning. Someone please throw her a lifeline today.


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