On Feb. 12, the Michigan Intercollegiate Athletic Association (MIAA) updated its COVID-19 spectator policy, allowing schools within the MIAA to have spectators attend sporting events to their individual discretion. In response to this, Albion College announced new additions to the 2021 Athletic Spectator Policy on Feb. 24. These amendments included new policies for men’s and women’s lacrosse teams and the men’s and women’s soccer teams. Both teams play home games at Alumni Field.
For men’s and women’s basketball, the decision to allow two spectators per student-athlete within Kresge Gymnasium came with just two home games remaining on the calendar. Athletic Director and COVID-19 Coordinator Matt Arend said the focus on basketball was intentional.
“When we made the policy change for spectators in basketball, there were only two home games left, so we really wanted to allow those parents to see their son or daughter play,” said Arend. “In that moment, quite frankly, we prioritized that as something we wanted to offer athletes on the teams.”
The information used to form the Spectator Policy came from a variety of sources, including the MIAA and the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS). From there, Albion assessed its facilities and determined the best response.
In creating their own spectator policies, other schools in the MIAA did the same.
“We had the responsibility of assessing our own facilities and making sure that we adhere to social distancing and masking wearing and protecting the athlete from coming in contact with fans,” said Arend. “That’s going to be pretty specific to each facility as we go through that process.”
The creation of spectator policies for each athletic facility on campus revolves largely around where student athletes are allowed to enter and exit and where spectators are allowed to enter and exit. This is in order to create as little chance as possible for interaction between spectators and student athletes. Also in consideration is the potential interaction between spectators and student athletes during the actual game.
Kresge Gymnasium, which has its locker room in the basement of the building, was easier to create spectator policies for. Other facilities, like Alumni Field, are more difficult.
“The Dow is built right by the stands and right where spectators tend to stand and wait for the games to start,” said Arend. “We’re going to have to be more creative with how we do that and get the athletes on the field than we do with Kresge. The issue with that is just the sheer size and how small the space is between the stands and the floor. It makes it more difficult to get more individuals than the 40 or 50 that we are allowing now.”
Just as only two spectators per student athlete were permitted for the remaining basketball games, only two are currently allowed for the lacrosse and soccer teams. The spectators must be immediate family members of the student athlete. This is another result of policy dictation by the MIAA and the MDHHS as well as discretion by the college.
“We took a look at roster sizes, and I felt better about having to appropriately manage upwards of 50 spectators in the space as opposed to 100,” said Arend. “A lot of those decisions go into available space and what makes the most sense and how easily we can manage it from a staffing perspective to make sure we can do it as safely as we can.”
To provide the family of senior students with a last chance to watch their student athlete play as well as avoid contact from non-students to students, only non-student immediate family members were permitted to be spectators at basketball games. The same is currently true of lacrosse and soccer games.
“It just comes down to the sheer number of individuals we’re willing to let into the arenas at this point and wanted to give seniors the opportunity to play in front of their parents one last time,” said Arend. “We really can’t get more than 100 individuals into Kresge, and that’s really pushing it. Trying to create a situation in which we keep even the students separated from those parents is difficult in some of those venues.”
For senior student athletes and their families, this expansion of the Spectator Policy has created situations for lasting memories.
While both the men’s and women’s indoor track and field teams and the men’s and women’s swimming and diving teams are not permitted to have spectators due to their lack of home meets, parents were permitted to attend the swimming and diving teams’ senior meet. John Cronick, a senior from Escanaba on the diving team, said his mother drove seven hours to watch her son’s last meet before their conference meet.
“She’s always come to my games, she always loves to watch me do sports,” said Cronick. “When she was told she wasn’t able to come to any of my meets, she was devastated, but she was able to come for my senior meet. She took time off work, she did whatever she could to come down, which was really awesome.”
While the fate of the football, baseball, softball, volleyball, tennis, outdoor track and golf spectator policies are still to be determined, Arend said he has hope for the upcoming seasons.
“We’ve already opened it up for lacrosse this weekend, applying the same policy we have in place for basketball to lacrosse,” said Arend. “I think that we’re heading in the right direction with everything. And as sports start, we can continue to allow some type of spectator to happen.”
In addition to the current policy that only permits non-student immediate family members, Arend said there is reason to believe students will soon be able to attend home games and support their friends.
“Unless the state goes backwards, we’re probably going to roll out a spectator policy with the hope that as we get into Module D that we will open it up to some form of student attendance,” said Arend. “We’re going to have to figure out some kind of sign up and contact tracing, however we do that, and then we have to socially distance them in the stands, they can’t sit together. There’s a lot of things that have to go into that process as we open it up to students.”
As the seasons continue for athletic teams, the Spectator Policy will continue to change in response to Albion College’s, Calhoun County’s and the state of Michigan’s COVID-19 data.
“We’re going to continue to increase the number of spectators that can be at contests. Outdoors is going to be a little bit easier to do than indoor ones,” said Arend. “Each sport plays at a different facility and we gotta make sure that we apply a policy that makes sense within each of those facilities. Although we’d like to equitably put out a policy, that’s not always possible with the limitation of the facilities they’re playing in.”