The Loyola men’s basketball team (21-4, 16-2) tips off March 5 in St. Louis for the annual Missouri Valley Conference (MVC) tournament, Arch Madness, at Enterprise Center. The event will look much different this year than last due to COVID-19, but there’s no shortage of fans tuning in to watch the Ramblers.
Some Loyola fans are planning on traveling to watch the Ramblers in person, including Mike Hansen, a season ticket holder in normal years. The Loyola alumnus, 65, said he was approved when he placed a request for tickets with Loyola Athletics and is driving down with a friend of his who’s also a season ticket holder.
“I’m excited because obviously I haven’t been to any games and they’ve been playing so well,” Hansen said, adding he’ll also try to attend the NCAA tournament if Loyola makes it.
But Hansen has COVID-19 safety top of mind.
“Like anybody, you’re a little bit cautious,” he said.
In compliance with St. Louis health guidelines, 1,400 socially distanced seats are available in the lower bowl of the arena for each game, according to a press release from the MVC.
Mike Kern, the MVC’s associate commissioner, told Phoenix reporters in an email the conference also has the ability to sell 500 socially distanced seats per game in the upper deck and is doing so for the quarterfinals, semifinals and championship contest.
Hansen said he and his friend have both received the first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine and have been in the same circle in recent months, so he’s not too nervous about them riding in the same car on the way to St. Louis. They’ll stay in separate hotel rooms, socially distance and wear masks as much as possible, he added.
The arena will be cleared of fans after each game — with the exception of the championship March 7 — so crews can disinfect and sanitize before opening the doors for the next matchup, according to the MVC.
Zach Harrington, a 2017 Loyola alumnus, said he follows the Ramblers “religiously” as a season ticket holder. He and his friends also put in a request with Loyola Athletics for tickets and said they were approved, so he’s heading down to the tournament with his friends March 4.
“It will be the first live sporting event that we’ve all attended in the last year and it’s pretty special that the first game will actually be the Loyola game,” Harrington, 25, said. “[It’s] definitely different this year with less fans but I think it’s going to be a pretty cool, intimate environment with only about 1,500 fans.”
Some avid followers, such as Joe Dlugosz, a 1999 alumnus and season ticket holder, will be watching from afar.
Dlugosz lives in Madison, Wis., but plans to drive down to Chicago to watch the games on TV with his brother-in-law, who’s also a Loyola graduate.
He said the ability to watch Loyola on TV hasn’t always been an option in his 25 years as a fan.
“If you go back to when I was in school, ESPN+ wasn’t a thing, and we were hoping to maybe listen on the radio if you weren’t at a game so at least having them on TV… has been fantastic,” Dlugosz said. “I’ve enjoyed the ride that way and obviously through Twitter and other social media you have connections with a lot of other fans.”
He said he gave attending Arch Madness “a lot of thought” but ultimately decided not to because of several obligations. But if the team heads to the big dance, he said he plans on being there.
Jennifer Aguayo, a 47-year-old Rambler fan and lifelong Chicagoan, said she fell in love with the team after its 2018 run to the Final Four.
Aguayo, who watches the team avidly, said she won’t be going to the tournament, but she’ll “definitely be tuning in.”
“I work from home so I can definitely take my lunch break Friday starting at 11 [to watch] the game,” she said.
The Ramblers tip-off March 5 at 11:08 a.m. on Fox Sports Midwest, Fox Sports Indiana, Fox Sports Kansas City and NBC Sports Chicago.