No decision yet on the fate of spring sport games
The Northwest Conference (NWC), the NCAA Division III athletic conference that includes Willamette University, held no games during the 2020 Fall Semester as part of safety measures for the COVID-19 pandemic, but Willamette still held practices, similar to other colleges. With COVID-19 cases rising in Oregon and across the United States, many are wondering if student-athletes will be unable to play in games in Spring 2021 as well. Rob Passage, Willamette’s director of intercollegiate athletics, said over email that there hasn’t been a final decision concerning sport games in the spring, but that the NWC president’s council will make the ultimate decision regarding conference games. The NWC president’s council’s next meeting is scheduled for Dec. 11. It’s not certain if a decision will be made then. Passage said Willamette will play only within the NWC and that they are drafting schedules for all sports, most with fewer games than a regular season.
If Willamette plays in games during the spring, fans will not be allowed unless there is a change in health guidelines. However, Willamette is working to ensure events can be watched online. According to Passage, the NWC is working on a testing policy to ensure student-athletes can safely travel between campuses. Willamette would need to comply with the policy to compete.
If the NWC does not have games in the spring, there is still the option of continuing practices. Passage said on spring practices, “I would hope that teams would still be able to train in some capacity even if they are not competing, but like everything else that depends on what the health authorities are telling us at that specific time.” Audrey Piacsek (‘22) of the track team said that her coach has communicated that there is no solid idea of what the season will look like, but there is a plan to continue practicing, which Piacsek would personally prefer over doing nothing. Kaitlyn Wells (‘21) of the softball team said over email that she would prefer to play games, but doesn’t believe it could safely happen since student-athletes from other institutions would have to come to Willamette and Willamette’s team would have to travel to other campuses. While not optimistic about being able to play games, she does hope they still practice, saying it’s important to maintain their skills and team chemistry.
On the question of if COVID-19 has affected funding for the Athletic Department, Passage said: “Like other departments on campus we have cut our expenditures to only include those items that are essential to what we are doing at the moment, which for us this fall was only practicing.” Passage said a lack in spending by the athletic department was probably a conscious decision to hold onto funds until spring plans were clear and not a funding issue.