Continuation of LMU Basketball During COVID-19

Though it may be unconventional for basketball to be played six feet apart, with players in masks, and stations of hand sanitizer surrounding the court, this has become the new normal for Loyola Marymount University’s basketball program. COVID-19 has many college campuses closed across the country, but universities like LMU, have remained open primarily for student-athletes as they continue the athletic season amidst new challenges on how to prepare, train, and remain safe for this season.

Although the West Coast Conference cancelled fall sports, men’s and women’s basketball was unaffected by that decision, as they are allowed to begin playing starting Nov. 10. LMU’s basketball teams began practices late August, while the players’ peers remained home. Because the teams normally prepare for the season in the summer, this was another factor that athletes and coaching staff had to adjust to among many changes.

With modifications to the season, there was uncertainty even leading up to the continuation of collegiate basketball. Charity Elliott, head coach of LMU’s women’s basketball team, said, “From spring through summer, we’d meet every week as a team, and every week it was ‘This is where I think we’re headed’ or ‘This is when I think we’re coming back’…that changed probably three or four times because of the new regulations that would come out or LA county’s decisions.”

As the team settles into building chemistry and working around ever-changing protocols, they also adapt to new precautions surrounding the Coronavirus. The West Coast Conference issued a statement in July that all in-person voluntary and mandatory training or practices must be conducted in alignment with the NCAA’s new regulations on local health and safety. Teams must social distance, use protective equipment, and train outdoors.

The women’s basketball team has incorporated these new regulations into their practices and workouts which have been taking place on some tennis courts behind the basketball arena.

“We have to sanitize every couple minutes, after a drill or so…we have to continue to sanitize the ball, sanitize our hands…Basketball is a contact sport so it’s really hard to be distanced,” said Jasmine Jones, a senior on the team. Along with wearing masks and getting temperatures checked before each practice, players also must get tested every week. The women’s basketball team also has players wear wristbands each day to signify they have not been showing COVID-19 symptoms or been in contact with any person with the virus. This method ensures only those with wristbands have access to facilities. Since the team arrived on campus, there has been zero positive tests.

When asking Jones if she was concerned about contracting the virus from exposure to teammates and coaches, she said, “I’m not worried about LMU because I know they’re doing everything they can to protect us. I’m kind of just worried about when we actually start competing against other schools. You don’t know what [other schools] are doing so that’s the scary part.”

Although all players on the team have all tested negative for Coronavirus, there has been news of athletes at other colleges who have tested positive. This raises the question of whether or not opening of college sports is worth sacrificing student-athletes’ health and safety. “The NCAA makes their money so much off of athletes so some way, somehow, some form, they’re going to make sure we play,” Jones said. “To be honest, I really didn’t think we should play. It’s not just about the money, you have lives being lost because of this virus.”

Elliott said that the West Coast Conference may be considering implementing a strictly monitored environment similar to NBA’s Bubble. “I’m focusing on keeping this group in a bubble environment as much as possible. There is a lot of talk about creating different regional pods and bubbles even within non conferences,” Elliot said. This possible “Bubble” scenario could mean that four teams travel to a single location for the weekend, instead of teams frequently traveling from state to state.

A definite alteration to the season is that fans will not be present at games, an unfamiliar atmosphere for collegiate teams. “Like the NBA, basically all you’re doing is playing organized open gym,” Jones said. “It’s going to be a little tough because [my teammates and I] are in the game, but we have to remember to also be the ones to have that energy—to be the crowd.”

Though the conference is in the process of finalizing all the standards of competition for the WCC, Coach Elliott and the team are confident and trusting of what the conferences’ decisions will be leading up to their first game on Nov. 25. “There’s a lot of uncertainty, but if we just stay in our guidelines, take the necessary precautions, and if we are smart about it, we’ll be fine,” Jones said.