While Loyola men’s and women’s basketball have been in full swing since the end of November, other athletic teams are getting ready to start their seasons. With COVID-19 still limiting a lot of normal activities, Loyola Athletics is preparing for an abnormal semester.
The Missouri Valley Conference announced Aug. 14 all fall sports would be postponed until the spring. This meant not only the sports that typically play in the spring — track and field, men’s volleyball, softball, golf and both basketballs — but also soccer, women’s volleyball and cross country would be competing as well.
Bill Behrns, the assistant athletic director of communications, said safety is the top priority while competing in the upcoming months.
“Teams and Loyola staff are following testing protocols,” Behrns said. “We have temperature and symptom screenings in place on each game day, and staff and coaches are wearing masks, along with the student-athletes when they are not competing.”
Behrns said student-athletes are tested at least two times per week. In addition, Loyola Athletics is following all NCAA protocols, so some student-athletes may receive more tests as it relates to the risk status of their respective sport, according to Behrns.
He also mentioned visiting teams have testing protocols in place and Loyola Athletics will only host events that are permitted by the local government and school guidelines.
Since more Loyola teams are competing than in a typical spring semester, the availaibility of athletic facilities brings an added challenge. All basketball and volleyball teams typically compete in Gentile Arena, with only the basketball team’s competing at the same time.
Behrns said the women’s and men’s basketball teams will continue to use Gentile, however the volleyball teams will play all their home matches in Alfie. This keeps the number of Loyola and visiting teams in athletics facilities to a minimum, according to Behrns.
“Facilities are going to be thoroughly cleaned after each contest and fortunately, the number of times we have a doubleheader is minimal,” Behrns said. “However, additional time has been built in for any such instances to allow for proper cleaning of the facility before the next game.”
Both soccer teams and the softball team will continue to host home games in their normal location of Loyola Soccer Park and Loyola Softball Park, respectively.
The big question for many Loyola fans has been if they’ll be allowed to attend games in the coming months.
“At this point, we do not see fans being allowed at games,” Behrns said. “Unless something should change with the local guidelines in place.”
In an effort to keep up fan engagement, Loyola Athletics announced the new GoRamblers app — an interactive way for fans to participate in game activities during the match. Some features include watching the introduction video typically played at the start of games, participating in contests, submitting fan videos for use in Gentile Arena and sharing favorite memories from past home games.
Loyola Athletics debuted the app for the men’s basketball team’s series against University of Northern Iowa Jan. 16-17. The contests for the second game of the match-up included a dorm decor competition, halftime trivia and a virtual t-shirt toss.
The virtual t-shirt toss promotion involved students retweeting a t-shirt toss graphic during the game. Loyola Athletics selected 15 random winners to win a free t-shirt.
“We encourage students and fans to download the app to enjoy a virtual game day experience and also win prizes,” Behrns said. “Following and interacting the teams via social media is also a great way to stay involved, as well as watching games on TV or via ESPN+/ESPN3.”
Although classes started Jan. 19, many teams still haven’t released their schedules for this semester. Outside of the basketball teams, women’s volleyball is currently the only team that has games on the calendar of the teams that haven’t played.
As seen through the basketball seasons, schedules are constantly changing due to COVID-19.
“As you can imagine, with the pandemic, scheduling has become even more of a challenge than usual,” Behrns said. “But as soon as schedules are finalized and approved, they will be announced.”