Empty fields, courts will dot CU campus this fall

Pac-12’s decision to postpone fall sports weighs heavily on contending Buffs programs

Cliff Grassmick / Staff Photographer
Colorado head soccer coach Danny Sanchez said the Pac-12’s decision to postpone fall sports could open up the possibility of having a season closer to normal in the spring.

Folsom Field will sit empty this fall.

So will the CU Events Center and Prentup Field. And the Buffaloes’ national-power cross country program will have to wait until 2021 to compete for another NCAA title.

On Tuesday, the Pac-12 Conference pulled the plug on fall sports, postponing all athletic competition until at least Jan. 1. While football understandably dominated the headlines, with the Big Ten becoming the first Power 5 league to pull the plug on the 2020 season before the Pac-12 followed suit hours later, the decision also derails the plans for other athletic programs at the University of Colorado that typically make impacts on the national stage.

The CU women’s soccer program has played in the NCAA Tournament in five of the past seven years. The volleyball squad reached the Sweet 16 in 2017 and returned to the tourney the following year. And coach Mark Wetmore’s cross country program is one of the premier distance-running squads in the nation, having collected six individual NCAA championships and eight team titles.

Adding to those track records will have to wait until at least 2021 due to the continuing fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic. While delaying all athletic competition to Jan. 1 also compromises the early basketball schedule, CU’s other two winter sports — skiing and indoor track and field — were not set to begin competition until January anyway.

“I think in the times we’re in, I don’t think this is a huge surprise to all of us,” CU soccer coach Danny Sanchez said. “It’s been a fluid situation since day one. Now we know that January first is our new target date, and we’re going to do all the right things and make all the right decisions so we’re ready to go whenever we’re given the green light to go. We can only control what we control. We’re going to stay as positive as we can and hope that things keep trending in the right direction so we can back get on the field sooner than later.”

Assuming a Jan. 1 restart becomes reality, the coming weeks and months will involve plans at all levels to execute an entire academic year’s worth of athletic seasons within a significantly shortened window. For instance, CU’s two basketball teams and the volleyball team usually only share gym time at the CU Events Center for a few weeks while all three teams are playing games. The new schedule could force facility juggling for up to three months.

In the case of the cross country team, it is unclear how the season might unfold in conjunction with the indoor track and field season.

Earlier this summer, Sanchez told that his team’s nonconference schedule would be loaded with Front Range teams — Colorado State, Northern Colorado, Air Force, Denver, and Wyoming — to reduce traveling concerns. Last month, the Pac-12 announced the cancellation of all nonconference competition for the fall. Yet on Tuesday, Sanchez noted that if the coronavirus pandemic can be curbed in the upcoming months, moving the season kickoff to January might allow for more expansive scheduling opportunities.

“I think it opens up more doors for us, to be honest,” Sanchez said. “We were working on such a tight timeline for the fall with school starting and so many unknowns. It was going to be just a partial season anyway. I think going to spring gives everybody more time to get ready to play. It opens up more windows for us being able to play and to review whether we can have an NCAA championship, which wasn’t going to happen this fall. It opens up the door to potentially not being conference-only.”