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BYU’s Mark Pope hopeful of finding safest way forward, and WCC thinks that could be in a bubble

(Photo courtesy of BYU athletics) BYU basketball coach Mark Pope talks to his players at a recent practice for the upcoming season.

Playing sports during the pandemic has proved to be difficult. Just on Tuesday, as the Los Angeles Dodgers were winning the World Series, it was shown how easily the virus can penetrate teams.

Due to an inconclusive test and delays, it wasn’t known that third baseman Justin Turner tested positive until he had already played an almost complete game — and that was after he and the team had spent the last three weeks in a bubble-type environment.
Clearly, bubbles can be popped. But bubbles have also proved to be the safest way to try to salvage seasons (look at the NBA).

And now it seems the West Coast Conference is considering building its own bubble.

Last Friday, John Canzano, a sports columnist at The Oregonian, was the first to report that the WCC is considering playing the league regular-season games (both men’s and women’s) in Las Vegas.
On Sunday, Jon Rothstein, of CBS Sports, tweeted that decision could come within the next few weeks.

After Thursday’s practice, Mark Pope was asked about the possibility of playing in a bubble, but the second-year BYU coach wasn’t able to provide much insight.

“I know the WCC is exploring every possible option to give us the best chance to get through our league play,” Pope said.

Although Pope ditched medical school for coaching years ago, the former Columbia University med student is still staying up to date with the latest numbers and trends, which are a “concern.”

On Thursday, the state recorded 1,837 new cases — the second-highest single day increase — and tied for the most deaths recorded in a single day (10) for the second day in a row. BYU has seen cases drop since its mid- to late-September spike, but was still averaging 20.9 cases per day last week (Oct. 16-22).

“You’re always concerned, like, with these cases going up, what’s going to happen,” Pope said. “There’s part of you that’s [thinking], with cases going up, we’re going to have higher mortality numbers. Just like every single person in the state of Utah and around the country, around the world, we’re super concerned and I’m hoping that we can find the safest way to move forward.”

Pope joked that his only concern about playing in a bubble would be where that bubble takes place. If the bubble means the Cougars are stuck in the Bahamas, where Pope could get non-alcoholic margaritas on the beach after games for three weeks, then he’s in. If it means they’re stuck in a podunk town in Wyoming, then he wouldn’t want to do that.

But on a more serious note, Pope did express he was proud with the way the league has handled the pandemic thus far.

[WCC Commissioner] Gloria [Nevarez] is doing an unbelievable job of everything,” Pope said. “I’m sure there’s 1,000 options that her team has dug into that nobody’s reported on, that we don’t even know about. The most important thing for us is can we just play.”
When freshman Caleb Lohner was first being recruited by colleges while he was still at Wasatch Academy, the pandemic wasn’t even a thought in anyone’s head. As a first-year student-athlete, this obviously wasn’t what Lohner envisioned his collegiate career to start as.

But he’s also on board should the league create a bubble. Lohner’s only concerns are that they play and that it be safe for everyone.

However, one of the things that has proved to be most different from high school, especially during the pandemic, has been time management. It has been a bit tougher figuring out how to get schoolwork done, get good rest and fit in practice while juggling the pandemic and added precautions, but Lohner, as well as the rest of the team, is figuring it out.

Should the bubble scenario become a reality, it shouldn’t cause too much disruption to the players, most of whom are already taking the majority of their classes online.

“We just want to win games,” Lohner said. “And we want to show everybody that we’re a legit basketball program.”

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