Athletic directors examine return of sports to Riverside City College, Norco College

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The football field at Riverside City College remains empty Nov. 10. The field has not seen action since the campus closed in March due to COVID-19. (Mathew Acosta | Viewpoints)
By Jesus Coronel

The Riverside City College Athletics Department has drafted a plan to have sports return in January, assuming the district is able to fund the testing necessary to keep student athletes safe and COVID-19 does not worsen.

Kaladon Stewart, RCC acting athletic director, was tasked with completing a cost-analysis of personal protective equipment, sanitation, disinfectant and testing for everyone involved in athletics.

“The challenge is definitely going to be the cost of testing,” Stewart said. “The nasal swab, or cheek swab, that is the gold standard for testing. That test is typically the test that is more cost prohibitive. So that will largely be one of the biggest determinants of our ability to compete.”

The Athletics Department has developed a comprehensive testing program for when students and employees return to practice. The athletic work group of the Riverside Community College District’s Safe Return Task Force is conducting a feasibility study to determine how the costs will be covered.

“Resources already budgeted for Athletics would be used and any additional sources of support, as deemed appropriate,” FeRita Carter, RCC Student Services vice president, said via email. “Because everything is still in flux, the cost out of the testing and protective equipment has not been determined at this time.”

The return plan is a result of a collaboration between several different colleges and guidance from the district’s Safe Return Task Force and several different higher education athletics organizations, including the NCAA and the California Community College Athletic Association. Stewart has also been working with Mark Hartley, Norco College acting athletic director. The plan covers both colleges.

The association unveiled a contingency plan in July that allowed all college sports to return simultaneously in spring 2021. Fall sports would return during the spring as well if the plan survives COVID-19 developments.

“These are big ‘ifs,’” Hartley said. “This might not happen at all. But if the county approves and the CCCAA approves, then we would come back January to begin training.”

RCC is in the Orange Empire Athletic Conference, which is made up mostly of colleges in Orange County, and Norco College is in the Inland Empire Athletic Conference. Orange County is currently in the less-restrictive orange tier of California’s Blueprint for a Safer Economy, while Riverside County receded to the more restrictive purple tier in October.

Practices while in the purple tier would be restricted to groups of 10 people engaging in non-contact activities outdoors. The red tier would have allowed groups of 25.

Stewart argued being in two different conferences has allowed for thoughts to be shared more easily across conferences between athletic directors.

“It allows us to have a broader picture of what our county is facing versus what a San Bernardino County might be facing or a Los Angeles County might be facing,” he said. “It’s actually helped to thought-partner on some of the ideas that are coming out of those areas.”

Although the athletic directors are hopeful for sports to return in spring 2021, Hartley said it may not be the case.

“All of our plans thus far have kind of been thwarted due to just COVID-19 rearing up again,” he said. “So we might not have any athletics until probably next fall.”

Carter said it is still too early to tell and that there are too many unknown factors at play to predict when sports will return. “But know that one of the guiding principles for when sports will return is centered on the health and safety of all involved with athletics,” Carter said.

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