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Spring Athletics: Preparing for the return of athletics at Eastern with new policies and procedures.

This spring Eastern is preparing for athletes to hopefully participate in a full athletic season.
This past fall, Eastern and the MAC Conference had the opportunity to learn what will be required to give athletes the opportunity to have a season while also protecting the communities they are part of during the COVID-19 pandemic.

This fall many division one universities had sports programs complete seasons despite Covid outbreaks in athletic programs and across college campuses as a whole. Although these outbreaks are less than ideal, college athletic programs across the country had the opportunity to learn from the procedures and policies instituted by those programs competing this fall. The NCAA and the MAC Conference has adjusted their policies in attempts to emulate the procedure practiced by programs that were able to maintain safe conditions in their athletic programs.

In an interview with Athletic Director Eric McNelly, he shared that new policies for this spring were added to those in the fall. The new policies include regular testing of student athletes, and separating opponents and members outside of Eastern’s community.

The new testing policies include weekly surveillance testing for sports that are considered intermediate risk sports based upon the NCAA’s tiering system released for the spring. Sports where teams are high risk or practice off campus are being tested three times a week. Sports that remain on campus are following a surveillance testing protocol until games begin when all members of the team will be tested on game day. If an athlete fails to attend their scheduled test, they will not be allowed to participate in practice until they have been tested.

Visiting teams will be screened as they get off their bus when they arrive along with having negative test results in order to be allowed to play that day. Opponents will have their own designated places while at Eastern, including separated locations to congregate for limited amounts of time that meet CDC guidelines and trailer locker rooms at outdoor playing fields. Teams will also be encouraged to use the restrooms on their charter busses to avoid the need for visiting athletes to enter other Eastern facilities.

Indoor sports such as basketball will practice social distancing by spacing out chairs where the bleachers would be while sitting on the bench and those athletes will be required to wear masks. Due to the rigorous testing protocols, athletes on the court during game play will be able to remove their masks, but will be expected to put one on as soon as they exit the court boundaries to sit on the bench in the way that higher NCAA divisions and professional teams have been playing.

Outdoor sports will have two trailers for visiting teams to avoid entering Eastern facilities. Each of those trailers will be assigned to a visiting team for the duration of the game and visiting teams will be on campus for as short an amount of time as possible. Members of visiting teams and their staff will only be allowed into Eastern athletic facilities under extenuating circumstances and will be monitored by Eastern staff.

Unfortunately at this time there will be no in -person spectators at any sports due to conference policy. Eastern will be bringing on extra staff in order to live stream all games so that fellow students and families can tune in from the comfort of their home or dorm to support their favorite teams.

As this semester progresses, athletes, students and other members of the Eastern community can expect these policies to reflect the policies that the NCAA is recommending programs implement to reflect the changing conditions of the pandemic. Although the current policies are subject to change, the main priority will remain keeping the Eastern community safe through reducing the possibility of Covid transmission through athletics with rigorous testing, reducing contact with visiting opponents and officials, and following the guidelines set forth by the NCAA and MAC conferences.

In relation to these policies and the policies put forth by the university, A.D. McNelly recommends athletes “Follow it, and adhere to it because you’re only putting the department at risk if we have a positive case”. McNelly also stresses the importance of everyone doing their part to be positive members of the community by wearing your mask, following social distancing, and other policies instituted by the university.

For sports players and students alike, following these protocols is an exercise in teamwork and mutual cooperation.

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