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Despite postponement, Pac-12 women's basketball supportive of Conference decision

Aug 11, 2020
Stanford Athletics

Stanford head coach Tara VanDerveer is currently at her offseason home in Minnesota. Friends have asked to come and visit. She said no. Friends have asked about visiting her 92-year-old mother Rita. She said no. Her brother asked about visiting their mother. She said no.

So the Pac-12’s announcement that it would be postponing all sports until January 2021 at the earliest, did not come as a surprise to the Hall of Famer.

“No. Not with what’s going on,” VanDerveer said Tuesday afternoon, shortly after the Pac-12 announcement. “It would be a surprise if you had told me this in April when we were all in sheltered-in-place and I thought we would get a grip on it. It would have been a surprise to me in May. But not now, knowing how we have been so resistant to doing what we need to do as a country.

“It’s very unfortunate. I’m very sad for our athletes, for the coaches, for the fans. Everyone. It’s horrible and quite unbelievable.”

California coach Charmin Smith was on a video conference call with her team soon after the Pac-12 announced the news.

“The postponement is really tough, but it’s the right decision if we are serious about putting the health and safety of our student athletes first,” Smith said. “I understand a lot of student-athletes want to play. I mean, coaches want to coach. But the bottom line is, it is not safe for contact sports right now and there’s no way around that.”

Smith said the “bubble” model being utilized by the WNBA, NBA and NHL isn't a “practical” option for college athletics.

“This was the right decision,” Smith said. “It didn’t really seem like we could get to full contact sports when our kids are working out 12 feet away from each other. Our student-athletes are hopeful that things will change between now and January.”

VanDerveer said she feels as if the sport is getting hit a second time after losing the NCAA Tournament last spring when the pandemic forced all sports to shut down, a loss that was particularly painful after the Pac-12 put up one of the most competitive seasons in league history and had at least four teams poised for long tournament runs.

“Now we are not getting a preseason and I hope we can get things turned by January and we can play,” VanDerveer said. “But I don’t know how we are going to do it. We are going to have to follow some strict guidelines and do the best we can.”

With Stanford students not on campus, VanDerveer said she has questions. It’s too soon for programs to have received directives from the conference about when they might be able to come together and begin to train and practice.

“If we are going to have students back at some point, can athletes be on campus and train?” VanDerveer said. “Our weight room is outside. Let’s get a tent and put up a wooden court on a tennis court and get outside and be as safe as possible. Our kids want to play. But we need to do it safely.”

UCLA coach Cori Close said simply, “There are so many more questions than answers.”

Like VanDerveer, Close said she was not surprised by the postponement of the start of the season.

“I was already bracing myself,” Close said. “I’m going to be happy if we can start in January, but there are a lot of big ramifications of all of this. It impacts recruiting and roster management. But nothing happened today that I wasn’t expecting.”

Close said she was prepping her team for the likelihood that they would not start on time in November. “I have thought for months that the chance we would start in November was slim to none. I just wrote my team a group message to say ‘This is what we’ve been talking about.’ I don’t have a lot of direct answers for them.”

Close said she feels most badly for her seniors, who are struggling with the delay.

“I’ve never had a time in my leadership life where so many areas of life are impacted at such an intense level,” Close said. “It’s difficult.”

“As much as we all want to practice and play like everything is normal, the reality is that it is not,” said Utah coach Lynne Roberts. “I trust the medical professionals and I actually appreciate their reluctance to throw caution to the wind at the expense of young people’s health.”

Roberts said her program is grappling with the unpredictability of everything that is happening.

“We’ll get through this and back on the court eventually with a deeper appreciation for what we have.”

VanDerveer supports the decision made by the Pac-12 Presidents.

“Something had to be done. I respect the presidents and the provosts for making a tough decision that had to be made in the best interest of everyone.

“I want to get back to playing, but we have to fight the first fight and knock this thing down.”

Michelle Smith is a contributing writer for pac-12.com. She has covered pro and college sports for espnW, San Francisco Chronicle, The Athletic and AOL Fanhouse. She was has won several awards, including the WBCA's Mel Greenberg Media Award, presented annually to a member of the media who has best displayed commitment to advancing the role of the media in women's basketball. For previous Michelle Smith features on pac-12.com, visit the archives page.