Athletes are hoping to return to campus by July, provided that southern Illinois has reached Phase 4 of the Restore Illinois plan.

The COVID-19 pandemic has been keeping SIUE athletes from practicing together, but coaches are eager to resume practice soon. Director of Athletics Tim Hall said SIUE’s plan is based on southern Illinois entering Phase 4, which Gov. J.B. Pritzker said will be no earlier than June 26.

“I think that is going to be based on the number of positive cases and they’re talking about the curve flattening. So if we stay flat or have a decrease certainly in the number of positive cases … we feel pretty confident that by the first full week in July we’ll be in Phase 4, which allows groups of 50 or less,” Hall said.

According to Hall, SIUE will reintroduce athletes by following NCAA guidelines, along with those of the Ohio Valley Conference.

“We’ll take those recommendations from the NCAA and interweave those into whatever policies ultimately come out from the Ohio Valley Conference and also the university,” Hall said. “And so the university is currently having planning meetings right now to talk about what will on-ground education look like in the fall and how will we reintroduce not only faculty and staff, but also students back to the campus in a safe manner.”

According to Hall, in addition to being tested upon returning to campus, athletes will be checked for symptoms.

“[We will] continually watch and assess, and check temperatures. And certainly if somebody were to report symptoms, get them tested right away,” Hall said.

Hall said even if Illinois reaches Phase 4 in time for fall sports, the number of spectators may be limited.

“If soccer for example has 11 on a side, then that’s 22 [players] and then you have the rest of the team off on the sidelines. Does that mean you can only have 15 in the stands? If you were looking at it from a literal sense, if we were still in Phase 4, that’s I think how you would look at it,” Hall said.

Kendall Paulus, head volleyball coach, said volleyball players are planning on being able to stay on-campus this summer.

“As of right now, I believe the university will open Cougar Village. I’m not sure about Evergreen, but we normally live in Cougar Village over the summer, and I do know they, as of right now, plan on opening that,” Paulus said.

Paulus said the team is working on a plan to allow them to work out together in the gym.

“There’s a chance that they can still get in the gym, but in very small groups, and we’re actually working on all those protocols right now. Assuming that they can be using our weight room, we were talking about maybe it’s just groups of four or five that work out at a time and they kind of come in waves, and how long between each wave,” Paulus said. “And the same girls that workout together will be the same girls that get in the gym together.”

Paulus also said sanitizing the volleyballs is a concern.

“We’re trying to figure out what we’ll do with the balls, like how they’ll definitely need to clean them before the next group comes in, or can they just use completely separate balls and not have to reuse any,” Paulus said.

According to Paulus, the team is expecting to play the Fall 2020 season.

“So far, nothing’s been canceled for us. All of our games are still moving forward … we’re really fortunate with our conference travel that we don’t have to travel very far, so we’re just trying to be prepared to make some health guidelines when we get there,” Paulus said. “But right now we are still planning to move forward.”

Lindsay Ross-Stewart, sports psychology consultant for the athletics department, said teams are used to not practicing together in the summer, so they have found other ways to keep the team culture alive.

“I know a lot of teams are doing Zoom meetings and doing different things with their athletes to make sure they’re staying connected, and they’ve been doing a lot of mental training to sort of help them stay connected and doing things,” Ross-Stewart said. “And then of course now that coaches aren’t allowed to do that now that we’re fully in the summer, a lot of the captains and the leaders of the teams will do those things to really help the team dynamic.”

Ross-Stewart said some athletes may struggle with the uncertainty of the future, in addition to missing out on this past season.

“I think athletes are struggling with the loss, you know there’s a real loss there. And then with the unknown of when they’re going to get it back,” Ross-Stewart said.

Visit the Cougar Athletics website to learn more about SIUE’s teams and for the latest updates about athletics operations.

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