Unless they’re told otherwise, the Colorado Mesa basketball teams are preparing to play in two weeks. And that includes playing in face masks.
“It’ll be a learning curve for the players, which is the best mask to wear,” women’s coach Taylor Wagner said. His team returned to the court Monday, practicing in face masks, after CMU paused athletics a couple of weeks ago. The men’s team got back to practice Wednesday afternoon, also masked up.
Chris Graham, the commissioner of the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference, said the wearing of masks will depend on state and local health guidelines. In Colorado, there’s a mask mandate, so everyone on and off the court will be required to wear masks. If teams play in a state that doesn’t require masks indoors, the players on the court won’t be required to wear them, but coaches and players on the bench will, as well as other game personnel, including officials.
“That’s going to be a conference rule,” Graham said. He doesn’t want the refs to “be mask police in the game. If a student-athlete steps away and it’s a dead ball and they’ve separated themselves by six feet and they need to pull it down to get a couple of gasps, breaths in, they’re more than welcome to do that.”
All college and university athletic administrators in the state have a conference call this afternoon with the Colorado Department of Public Health. Graham hopes the call will provide athletic departments with a game plan — at least one that gives them a starting point as they move to indoor sports.
“They’ll get us updated, I think,” Graham said. “They’ve got such a difficult job to do right now. There’s so many aspects to it. … They’ll update us and try to bring us together a little more closely aligned so we can make some decisions on operations, with or without fans, with masks if we’re participating.”
Conference calls with the RMAC basketball coaches this week were nearly unanimous — if it means we can play, we’ll wear masks. Wagner and assistant coach Hannah Pollart have been discussing ways to quickly communicate to players during games when their voices will be muffled.
“Each individual player responds and hears different,” he said. “We’re trying to map out the best way we need to communicate with the girls on the floor. We’ve done a good job with expecting a lot out of our kids, making sure they’re on the same page and now we throw this wrinkle in and we’ve got to figure out how to communicate a combination of things and we have to communicate quickly.”
There’s still no guarantee the Mavericks will tip off the season on Dec. 4, especially if Mesa County does move to the Red level on the COVID-19 status dial as expected on Friday and stays at that level for an extended period. The “severe risk” level prohibits indoor events, unless a variance is granted. County and state health regulations have the final say on whether games are played.
“Everything that we’ve done from the early stages was predicated on local health guidance,” Graham said. “The NCAA documents even refer to that, saying here are our recommendations, which we think are pretty solid, but at the end of the day, local health decisions will rule what you do.”