Recently, college athletics continues to be impacted by COVID-19.
Virginia Commonwealth had to pull out of the 2021 NCAA men’s basketball tournament and the NC State baseball program lost the opportunity to compete for a College World Series Championship due to an overwhelming amount of positive tests. For the 2021 MAC football season, a COVID outbreak could mean a forfeit.
“We will not have the same minimum roster standards that we did last year,” Jon Steinbrecher, MAC commissioner said. “If you cannot play the game, we will not reschedule the game and the game will be forfeited.”
Administrators, coaches, and some players are emphasizing that despite the lifting of COVID restrictions, the pandemic is not over yet. They’re strongly encouraging their fellow student-athletes and teammates to be vaccinated.
“I’ll encourage them to get vaccinated, but it’s a choice we’ve done a really good job as a program. A year ago, we tested six times a week, we played every game. The kids did a really good job of social distancing,” Central Michigan head coach, Jim McElwain said.
“So we’re gonna have to continue that moving forward this season. It’s a little bit different, though if you don’t have enough guys and you got to forfeit. I know one thing, I don’t care if we have 11 guys, we’re gonna fly. We’ll figure out how to do it because I think that’s important.”
MAC coaches are heavily relying on the team culture and safety protocols established during last season to prevent outbreaks this season.
“Luckily for us, we didn’t even come close to that last year, they’ve done a great job, it’s a very disciplined group and we’re still gonna have to be disciplined, you’re gonna want them to pull back too soon,” Western Michigan
Lifting COVID restrictions has allowed stadiums to have spectators at maximum capacity this fall, which a lot of athletes are looking forward to.
“Last fall we said it shouldn’t matter if people aren’t here you’re playing for each other you’re playing because you want to be your best regardless of how many people are here,” Eastern Michigan head coach Chris Creighton said. “I do think that when fans are in the stands it does matter. It does help with momentum with energy and the stadium and whatnot. So we’ve got to be able to play at a high level, (whether) it’s stone-cold, silent, or whether you can’t even hear yourself think. We’re excited about the latter this fall.”
Athletes at EMU have first-hand experience of how rapidly an outbreak can ravage a team after an outbreak in the spring .
“An outbreak can happen like that we’ve like we had one in February that like took out, you know, probably 75% of the team either had COVID or was contact trace,” said Thomas Oduloya. “If we have that during the season and we missed one two or three games and those are automatic losses that’ll be detrimental to our championship goal.”
For EMU, the main focus is accountability and sacrifices to ensure a COVID outbreak doesn’t affect their post-season hopes.
“We got to make sure everybody doing everything right and keep encouraging our teammates that don’t have the vaccine to get it because if you committed to a team you’re gonna do whatever it takes for the team to win,” said Turan Rush. “I know a lot of people scared of the vaccine and have their own beliefs about it but now they’re not remaking the game. We have to know that as a team at a program if we have a goal to plan to at the MAC championship, we got to do whatever it takes to keep our team safe.”