Due to concerns regarding COVID-19, all Loyola fall sports will be delayed until Sept. 18 at the earliest, according to a July 27 press release from the Missouri Valley Conference (MVC) July 27. However, student-athletes have begun returning to campus for voluntary workouts and have been undergoing testing and other safety procedures, according to Loyola Athletics.
The MVC announced that men’s and women’s soccer and women’s volleyball will only participate in the conference portion of their schedules — meaning all non-conference games will be canceled.
“It’s the right thing to do, and it’s not a knee-jerk, quick decision,” Loyola Athletic Director Steve Watson told The Phoenix. “We’ll reevaluate in the coming weeks to see if we’ll be able to compete, as we hope, in the middle of September.”
Watson said the process of reevaluating will consist of many different parts. He said they’ll continue to monitor how the rest of the country is handling the coronavirus outbreak as well as what other NCAA conferences are doing. As for Loyola, Watson said the Athletic Department is listening to what health experts are saying and following guidelines from both the city of Chicago and the state of Illinois.
“We’re going to continue to look at the national landscape and see where things are with other conferences,” Watson said. “Ultimately, there’s science involved with this that’s above my knowledge and ability. So, we’re leaning heavily on our medical experts.”
Loyola women’s soccer senior defender Jenna Ross said she thought the MVC’s decision to delay and shorten the season was ultimately good news.
“We all knew some type of news was coming,” Ross, 21, said. “Coming in as a senior this year, I’m obviously very excited that we still get to hopefully play. Even though it is just conference, it’s still better than nothing and that’s the most important part of the season.”
Loyola’s other fall sports — men’s and women’s cross country and men’s and women’s golf — will be allowed to participate in non-conference competitions as long as non-MVC schools “meet the necessary safety specifications as outlined in the NCAA’s Resocialization of College Sports Guidelines,” according to the press release.
Golf and cross country are able to keep their non-conference competitions because there’s a lower risk involved with individual sports compared to team sports like soccer and volleyball, according to Watson.
Despite the decision to delay fall sports, Watson said a verdict hasn’t been made regarding fan attendance at the fall conference games for soccer and volleyball.
“We haven’t made that decision yet,” Watson said. “We’re still looking at exactly what that will entail. Right now our focus is on getting our athletes back on campus for training and practices. We’ll drill down on the competition piece here once we get a little closer.”
While the conference announced official practices for fall MVC-sponsored teams may not start before Aug. 17, Watson said teams will begin voluntary workouts in the coming weeks. The biggest differentiator between the two is coaches aren’t allowed to conduct the voluntary workouts.
However, this delayed practice schedule doesn’t impact the Loyola men’s basketball team, according to a Loyola Athletics spokesperson. The Ramblers returned to modified practice last week.
Once official team practices start Aug. 17, student-athletes and coaches will be tested weekly for COVID-19, according to Loyola’s Deputy Athletic Director Holly Strauss-O’Brien. Student-athletes and coaches will also be tested 72 hours prior to any competition.
In addition to testing, Loyola Athletics has implemented a form of contact tracing as well as using a symptom assessment app.
Once a student-athlete is cleared to participate in the voluntary workouts, they will have to scan a QR code with their phone to enter into the athletic facilities and use training machines. Also, Loyola Athletics is requiring the student-athletes to fill out a symptom assessment form using an app every morning that will go directly to their athletic trainers.
Ross said she is planning to return to campus July 31 to start the voluntary workout process.
“With losing the spring season, I definitely feel like it’s important for me to get back on campus and get back into the flow of everything,” Ross, an advertising and public relations major, said. “Once tests come back negative, then us girls can get back in the weight room but at limited capacity. We have like five-girl lifting groups, so we’re only in a small bubble with the team.”
Strauss-O’Brien said student-athletes returning for voluntary workouts must go through a quarantine period before they are allowed to train with the team. This length of quarantine period is determined on a case-by-case basis, according to Illinois guidelines. The range is between five and 14 days, depending on variables such as where the student-athlete was living and how they traveled to campus.
After completing the quarantine, student-athletes are then tested for COVID-19. If the student-athlete’s test comes back negative, they will then be allowed to participate in the voluntary workouts.
“Right now, we’ve had a really great partnership with the Wellness Center and Loyola Medicine,” Strauss-O’Brien said. “Because there’s not a lot of people back on campus and we’re slowly phasing in student-athletes … we’ve been able to get test results in a day or two.”
However, Strauss-O’Brien said it’s “likely” going to take longer to receive test results once more student-athletes return and testing frequency increases.
“In the event there’s a positive result, the medical attention goes obviously [toward] that individual,” Strauss-O’Brien said. “They go into isolation and get treated from there.”
The majority of student-athletes will be staying off campus, but first-year student-athletes will be staying in on-campus housing, according to Strauss-O’Brien.
Strauss-O’Brien said the practice sessions are designed to limit the potential spread of COVID-19 if a student-athlete contracts the virus. Across all sports, student-athletes are split up into small groups of usually three-to-five people based on living situations, according to Strauss-O’Brien.
Strauss-O’Brien declined to disclose whether any Loyola student-athletes or coaches have tested positive for COVID-19.
In the release, the MVC said winter and spring sports haven’t been affected. However, the conference said it will continue to monitor the situation and “if necessary, consider additional action as dictated by circumstances.” Watson said he doesn’t anticipate a decision about delaying or altering winter seasons coming anytime soon.