UCSB spring sports got the call to play ball from the Big West Conference on Friday.
League commissioner Dan Butterly announced return-to-play and scheduling protocols for four sports: baseball, softball, men’s volleyball and women’s water polo.
“Our focus remains on the health, safety and well-being of our student-athletes and we will continue to evaluate the pandemic’s effect on our ability to provide a safe environment for competition,” Butterly said. “These schedule formats reflect the changes our Big West administrators, coaches and staff felt were necessary in the face of unprecedented challenges.”
The conference’s baseball format will feature four-game weekends, with doubleheaders on Saturday.
It’s a scenario that UCSB coach Andrew Checketts hopes will benefit his pitching-deep roster. He returns his entire starting rotation of right-hander Michael McGreevy, and left-handers Rodney Boone and Zach Torra, from a staff that tied Vanderbilt for best earned run average in the nation last year (1.84).
“Barring any major injuries, I feel pretty good about that,” Checketts said. “You’ll see a lot of different guys early until the starters get built up. The guys on the lower end of the depth chart will be getting opportunities early, which I think is good.
“Early in the year, you do have concerns about your starting pitchers not being built up to go long. We’ll work up six to eight starters who are ready to go four or five innings on the opening weekend. On top of that, we’ll have four or five bullpen guys who are able to go short relief.”
He’s still arranging the Gauchos’ non-conference schedule. They are tentatively set to open their season on Feb. 26 with a weekend series against Pepperdine but are also looking for an opponent for the previous weekend. A Feb. 23 home game against Loyola Marymount is also a possibility, he said.
UCSB will open its Big West season at Cal State Fullerton on March 19.
Butterly said that once the Big West season starts, teams will be allowed to play non-conference games only on their bye week and not at mid-week. The league season will conclude on May 29.
Big West softball teams will have a three-game series during conference play. Schools are permitted to add a fourth game to the series which would be designated as a non-conference game.
As in baseball, teams will be permitted to play one team per week during the conference season and are prohibited from participating in any midweek contests during that time. Conference play will begin on March 19 and run through May 15.
Big West men’s volleyball will play 10 league matches beginning March 11, with a two-game series against one opponent each week. Schools are permitted to schedule a third match in the series to count as a non-conference contest.
Teams may play matches earlier in the conference schedule if both schools agree. However, if teams move up their contests and wish to play again later in the season, the second series will not count toward conference standings.
Volleyball’s regular season will conclude on April 17, with the Big West Tournament running from April 22-24 at Hawaii’s SimpliFi Arena at Sheriff Center.
Women’s water polo teams will play each Big West opponent once during the conference season which begins March 12. Teams will have the option of adding a second, non-conference match against their conference opponent. Conference matches may be played earlier in the schedule if mutually agreed.
If teams move up their contests and then wish to play again later in the season, it will not count toward conference standings. In addition, any matches scheduled between Big West opponents outside of the conference schedule footprint would also be deemed non-conference.
Women’s water polo will conclude its regular season on April 25, with the Big West Championships to follow from April 30 to May 2.
The Big West will also conduct championships in the sports of men’s and women’s tennis, men’s and women’s golf, men’s and women’s track and field, and women’s beach volleyball.
Butterly said that all institutions will continue adherence to medical and COVID-19 testing protocols established by the Big West Conference based on CDC, NCAA, federal, state and local guidelines.