Loyola AD Steve Watson Talks COVID-19’s Impact on Loyola Athletics

Nick Schultz | The PhoenixLoyola athletics director Steve Watson (left) pictured with Loyola men's basketball head coach Porter Moser.

After the Missouri Valley Conference (MVC) announced the postponement of fall sports Aug. 14, Loyola Athletic Director Steve Watson discussed some of the ways the coronavirus pandemic has impacted Loyola Athletics.

Watson said he wasn’t surprised by the conference’s decision to not play in the fall. When the postponement was announced, he released a statement supporting the decision and saying the health and safety of everybody involved is paramount.

“It wasn’t any big surprise for any of us,” Watson said. “We saw this coming based on what other … conferences were doing. As soon as the NCAA made the announcement that there weren’t going to be any fall championships, that pretty much sealed the deal for us and a number of the other conferences as well.”

Is everything canceled for the fall season?

The conference competitions are canceled, but student-athletes will still be allowed to “participate in athletically-related activities” — as long as they comply with safety measures put in place by the institutions, NCAA and public health guidelines. The MVC gave examples of athletically-related activities including non-conference competition, practices, strength and conditioning sessions and team meetings..

This ruling on the non-conference scheduling is flipped from what was previously announced at the end of July. Initially, the MVC had canceled all non-conference competition for fall sports while still going forward with the conference season. However, the Aug. 14 ruling postpones conference matches but opens the door for teams to play against non-conference opponents.

“For us, I can’t think of a scenario that would have us competing in the fall,” Watson said on the possibility of Loyola competing in non-conference competition in the fall. “But ultimately, that would be an institutional decision. We’ve talked to our coaches about it … nobody’s pushing to compete here in the fall.”

Through the interview with The Phoenix, Watson emphasized the main goal is to keep Loyola’s teams ready for a potential spring season. A Loyola Athletics spokesperson said the plan is to allow teams to continue the activities they’ve been doing since student-athletes were allowed to return to campus for voluntary workouts. These include conditioning workouts and small pod skill instruction workouts.

Watson told The Phoenix he thinks there are much larger concerns than scheduling games right now. He said the focus is on making sure the student-athletes have the “best experience possible,” especially the first-year athletes whose final year of high school and first year in college were both affected by the coronavirus.

What’s Loyola Athletics’ COVID-19 testing situation?

Following the MVC’s initial announcement July 27 to suspend fall sports, Loyola Athletics said its plan would be for student-athletes to go through a quarantine process and then to test once a week and at least 72 hours before a competition. Now that all competitions are postponed, Watson said he anticipates they’ll scale the testing back a bit.

“I think we [will] scale it back, because … that requirement to test 72 hours prior to a competition goes away,” Watson said. “But there are still guidelines that the NCAA, the CDC that they’ve given us that we’ll continue to follow. I can’t imagine it’s the same, I think it’s a little bit less than what we had originally scheduled.”

Despite slightly decreasing the frequency of tests, Watson said there are still procedures in place to test athletes, especially those who play contact sports.

“Because we’re going to continue with our training, testing is going to be a part of our protocols,” Watson said. “We’ll do surveillance testing in some of our high contact sports — the soccer [teams] and women’s volleyball — they’ll be tested a little more frequently.”

Watson confirmed there are no active positive cases in Loyola Athletics as of Aug. 17.

What is the financial impact of not having fall sports?

Watson called the financial ramifications from a shortened spring season and a postponed fall season a “work in progress.” 

“We’re operating like everybody else on our campus right now with a bare bones budget,” Watson said. “We’re only making purchases that are absolutely critical. … The long-term financial impact for the entire institution is going to be significant, but I feel good about the fact that we’re doing our part in being [really] fiscally responsible.”

When asked whether Loyola Athletics has downsized its staff at all, Watson said the department hasn’t made any cuts but also hasn’t filled positions of the “handful” of employees that left for other jobs.

Where are Loyola’s student-athletes living?

When Loyola announced on-campus housing would be suspended Aug. 6, there was uncertainty over what would happen to the displaced athletes who were still expected to be on campus for workouts. Watson said nearly all of the sophomore student-athletes have found off-campus housing to live in after Loyola loosened its policy early this summer to only require first-year students to live in the residence halls. However, Watson said the first-year student-athletes will continue to live in on-campus housing this semester.

Watson said the student-athletes will qualify as a kind of “special population” that needs to be on-campus — similar to the ROTC program, international students and students with housing insecurities.

“The university’s decision on those special populations was to allow them … to live on campus in the dorms,” Watson said. “It was a university decision based on the requirement that [the student-athletes] are on campus.”

Watson said student-athletes are required to be on campus for up to 20 hours of training per week. But they’re also on campus for additional activities such as rehab and spending time with coaches on individual work.

How is eligibility going to be impacted by fall sports being postponed?

When the NCAA canceled spring sports earlier this year, they granted extra eligibility for the athletes who had their seasons cut short — men’s volleyball, softball, and men’s and women’s track and field and golf. Also, the NCAA allowed the student-athletes to have additional eligibility, but it left the decision for scholarships and financial aid up to each individual university.

The situation for fall sports is different than last spring due to the fact that this year’s fall sports could be played this upcoming spring.

There are reports the NCAA will be making a decision on eligibility soon, and Watson said he expects a favorable outcome for the student-athletes based on how the NCAA handled the spring season getting cut short.

“The NCAA hasn’t determined definitively, as of yet, how they’re going to approach the eligibility for athletes from this fall,” Watson said Aug. 17. “These last few months, [the NCAA has] been very student-athlete friendly so I would anticipate there will be options for the athletes that are not participating this fall.”

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