HARROGATE, Tenn. (WATE) — Like many universities across the state and nation, Lincoln Memorial University is drafting up potential game plans when it comes to tackling sports and COVID-19. With no set playbook or rules to follow to face an opponent they have never seen before, their team has to create multiple strategies.
“The plan we have today may be plan A. The plan we have in August may be plan M, who knows. It’s just going to require a lot of patience,” LMU Assistant Athletic Director for Sports Medicine Donald “Don” Grigsby said.
As of now, plan A consists of bringing their student-athletes back to campus in two large groups. The first group, fall sports student-athletes (women’s volleyball, men’s and women’s soccer, men’s and women’s cross country, tennis and bowling), would return on Aug. 1. The second group will consist of winter and spring sport student-athletes who will return to campus in mid-August.
Leading up to the return and when they get back on campus to a “new normal” and beyond will require a lot of patience.
According to Grigsby, leading up to the Railsplitters return each student-athlete will complete a COVID-19 screening 14 days in advance. Each person will complete a questionnaire, get a temperature check, and be educated on the proper ways to quarantine and how they can travel back to campus.
Once they are physically on campus the process will restart. If someone is exhibiting signs and symptoms of the virus, Grigsby says they have the capability to test and are working out details of proper isolation and quarantining if someone were to test positive.
For student-athletes returning from “hot spots,” the Grigsby says they will likely face an isolation period and would like to get them back on campus earlier for that.
“It will be great to have athletics back,” Grigsby says, “but with so many new standards going on with the COVID-19 virus and the pandemic has created … stressing proper hygiene, sanitizing surfaces, the protective equipment we have to wear; the masks and gloves, and still being able to have our athletes ready to go on day one, it’s going to be a huge process but we’re going to have to be patient.”
Mental health is also a concern when it comes to the resocialization process. When student-athletes return and prepare for their respective seasons safely, Grigsby says two key things they are looking for are physical and mental conditioning.
During the hiatus from campus, strength and conditioning coaches created training plans for their athletes to follow, so they are more concerned about their mental health state.
“Maybe there’s some separations anxiety coming away from home, coming away from a relationship at home, they’re trying to establish new identities and fit in with new teams,” Grigsby said. “They’re competing at a higher level so this adds it’s own sense of anxiety and or depression. But then you combine the COVID-19 pandemic, we can expect to see our numbers increase with anxiety and depression so we have to be ready.”
As mental health will be one of their “biggest obstacles they need to be aware of” Grigsby says the athletic department plans to tackle that by creating awareness among trainers, coaches, student-athletes, etc. They will be on the lookout for signs and symptoms and offer counseling services to its athletes.
Another changes student-athletes and coaches face this year is a limited number of games.
In May, the NCAA Division II Presidents Council voted to lower the number of contests required for sports sponsorships and championships selection, as well as the maximum number of contests allowed due to financial impacts from COVID-19.
A lot of member schools are struggling financially and had to figure out how to be fiscally sound and still play. LMU Director of Athletics Jasher Cox said that reducing the number of games is one option they could take for the 2020-21 season.
“I think the most important thing for them Is knowing that there is a chance that we can compete and that’s what’s encouraging right now,” Cox said. “If you have something taken away from you and not really knowing if you will ever get it back again. If you know you can get a snippet or a portion of it back sometimes that will suffice.”
As for if there will be fans allowed in the stands, they are keeping their eyes on professional sports leagues to see if that can be an option for them this school year.
“If the pros aren’t doing it,” Cox said, “it would be hard for it to be a selling point for collegiate athletics to proceed the opposite way.”
While these plans are not set in stone yet due to the nature of the novel coronavirus, Cox and his staff are working to make sure they are prepared for a safe return come August.
“Our kids deserve an opportunity to come out here and compete and we want to do that. We just have to make sure we’re all safe,” Cox said.