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Few viable options for canceled Pac-12 cross country season

Buffs coach Mark Wetmore favors looking ahead to fall ’21

BOULDER, CO - Aug. 3, 2019: ...
Daily Camera file photo
BOULDER, CO – August 3, 2019: Mark Wetmore, CU cross country head coach, during Fall sports media day.(photo by Cliff Grassmick/Staff Photographer)

While the SEC, ACC, and Big 12 Conference all forge ahead with plans to compete during the fall sports schedule, the Colorado Buffaloes have been sent to the sideline along with the rest of the Pac-12 and Big Ten.

For CU’s football, volleyball and soccer programs, hope remains for a viable, competitive schedule beginning in January. The lost cross country season is another matter altogether.

Veteran Colorado track and cross country coach Mark Wetmore said he learned long ago not to expect the NCAA to make any evaluation outside the prism of football, so it came as no surprise that cross country was lumped in with everything else when the Pac-12 opted to postpone all athletic competition until at least Jan. 1.

Yet for distance running — held outdoors, and which can more easily promote social distancing within competition — the postponement of the 2020 season has been particularly troubling. Not only do the nuances of a year-round sport that continues during the indoor and outdoor track seasons make a 2020 cross country season unlikely, but a Buffaloes program accustomed to chasing national championships is continuing its workouts like business as usual while many of the Buffs’ peers nationally are toeing the starting line (though the NCAA announced it will hold no championship events for fall sports).

“For us, (training) hasn’t really been difficult,” CU senior Eduardo Herrera said. “I think the only change we’ve made so far is just in terms of the groups, the amount of people who get together. We’ve kind of decreased the amount of runners in terms of the teammates we run (with).

“We’ve been able to train pretty well throughout the summer. We’ve been pretty serious and nothing has changed. I know most of us have been pretty upset in terms of the season being canceled. But I don’t think anything is changing any time soon in terms of our training.”

According to Wetmore, three potential scenarios are in play for a possible cross country season early in 2021. One plan is to have cross country simply replace indoor track. The other two involve choosing to run a cross country season at the expense of either the indoor or the outdoor track seasons. Which means Wetmore would be forced to choose between cross country and either of CU’s track seasons.

Those scenarios still would rob athletes of opportunities for a second consecutive year during the track cycles. Last year, the indoor championships were just about to start when NCAA athletics were shut down at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in March. Shortly afterward, the outdoor season was canceled.

“All of those (scenarios) are terrible because they require some great fit to throw away a season,” Wetmore said. “Maybe they choose cross country instead of indoors. And maybe it’s a real good runner who missed the outdoor (finals) last year. So all those ideas are just dumb.

“Cross country, the smart thing to do is to say we lost ’20, see you in ’21. Give us back the eligibility and say, ‘See you in a year.’”

On Friday, the NCAA announced it would indeed allow eligibility relief for all fall sport athletes, regardless of when, or even if, their 2020 seasons unfold. Much of the CU cross country team already received the same benefit from the canceled outdoor track season, and Wetmore said the Buffs are doing their best to take everything in stride despite the Pac-12’s recent announcement.

“It’s different for every athlete,” Wetmore said. “There’s some athletes who were gutted by it. There’s some athletes just forge ahead. Right now, we’re allowed to practice like there is a season with a normal 20-hour a week training schedule. We have 20 women, 20 men and we’re going forward, and some look a little mopey and some have the bit in their teeth. I keep telling them there’s going to be a race eventually, so let’s go. Most of them are getting it.”

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