Many Willamette University student-athletes will be able to compete during the Spring 2021 semester, following COVID-19 guidelines from the Northwest Conference (NWC). Due to decisions made by Willamette and state restrictions, not all sports will be able to compete and practice. Marion County is still in the “[extreme risk]” category with state restrictions factoring into the fates of specific sports. Willamette [announced] the cancellation of the basketball and football seasons in Dec. 2020 after the Oregon Health Authority (OHA) [announced] that full-contact sports are prohibited. On Jan. 26, Oregon Governor Kate Brown [announced] changes to restrictions for sport facilities in “extreme risk” counties. The changes allow facilities with over 500 square feet a maximum of six people at a time. Willamette’s Director of Intercollegiate Athletics Rob Passage said over email he hopes this will allow volleyball, basketball, football and swimming to be able to practice in small groups. State restrictions had previously required the closing of indoor sport facilities, which would have prevented basketball, swimming and volleyball from being able to compete or practice, and left football unable to conduct indoor weight training. Volleyball and swimming are still unable to compete.
Willamette released an [announcement] on Jan. 15 about moving towards spring sports that said tentative schedules were being released for women’s volleyball, both soccer teams, both golf teams, track and field, both tennis teams, baseball, softball, women’s lacrosse and both swimming teams. Sports teams that do not require indoor facilities and are considered low or intermediate risk will be able to start practicing once Willamette’s two-week quiet period is over. Practices will start after Feb. 2 and they will follow the same [COVID-19 protocols] as teams who practiced during the Fall 2020 Semester. According to Passage, there are “hopeful schedules” for the permitted sports, but these schedules may change at any time in reaction to updated health guidelines.
Willamette’s teams will only compete within the NWC and Oregon, following conference protocols. Protocols include surveillance testing of student-athletes, similar to what Willamette is conducting student-wide. Passage said that to help ease the load of testing on the Bishop Health Center, Athletics training staff will conduct the surveillance testing of student-athletes at Sparks Fitness Center. Protocols also require masks for coaches, players and other staff in the bench area, but according to Passage, there are discussions within the Reopening Operations Committee on potentially requiring masks for student-athletes during active competition. He did say, however, that student athletes will be required to wear masks while using the indoor facilities for volleyball and tennis. Spectators will not be allowed, but events will be livestreamed.
Passage declined to comment on questions regarding funding of the Athletics department in the wake of canceled seasons.