For SIUE Athletics, this semester is unprecedented; due to COVID-19 delays, all sports will play their seasons within the same time frame. This raises the question of how student-athletes are being kept safe while traveling on the road for the first time during the pandemic.
Currently, all student-athletes get tested three times a week on nonconsecutive days with one nasal swab test and two antigen tests meant to detect COVID-19 antigens, indicating infection. These rules stay in place no matter where athletes are, even on the road. Women’s Basketball Head Coach Paula Buscher said if an athlete tests positive on the road, there is a plan in place to get them home.
“If someone would test positive or have symptoms, that person is immediately isolated from the team, and they don’t travel back on the bus. We would rent a vehicle and have one staff member bring them home,” Buscher said.
The rules teams have in their hotels are just as strict as those on campus. Athletes stay in rooms of two, they stay far apart in conference rooms when meeting is required, there is a dedicated room for testing and rather than going out to eat after a game, all food is delivered.
Director of Athletics Tim Hall said the school makes sure the team is safe when they do have to meet together.
“Those rooms are cleaned extra for us, and for the time we’re in the hotel no other groups are using them but us. So, we can stay in that family unit,” Hall said.
While some games in certain states can be played in front of small audiences, most games are played in empty gyms. The OVC has tried to keep the games and matches normal, while coaches and media are forced to keep their distance from the action.
OVC Assistant Commissioner for Strategic Communications Kyle Schwartz said the OVC also has rules in place for when tournaments come around.
“We’re spacing the game times out a little bit, so that teams are separated. You don’t want one game ending and another team being ready to come on the court … We’re making sure the locker rooms are cleaned after every use … Health and safety is our number one priority,” Schwartz said.
Schwartz said when tackling rules and restrictions for this semester, the Ohio Valley Conference followed the NCAA’s guidelines and made adjustments from there.
“We followed what [the NCAA] did, and then our group met and saw if there were additional things that needed to be done and clarified,” Schwartz said.
Buscher said despite everything going on, her team is happy to be playing.
“They’ve been really resilient … [COVID-19 is] part of it this year and everyone understands it. There are some inconveniences, but we’re really happy and feel blessed that we’re able to play,” Buscher said.
Those interested in checking the Cougars’ recent away games can look at the results on the SIUE Cougars website.