Patrick Danielson ’21 (he/ him), staff writer
In the Fall 2021 semester, Davidson is going to transition back to in-person classes in response to the COVID vaccinations our students are receiving. The recent on-campus vaccination clinic, alongside responsible testing and outside vaccinations, will allow the school to return to some degree of normalcy in the coming semester.
In parallel with the transition back to traditional classes, student athletes and athletics are planning to undergo a similar process. This begins with figuring out the degree to which returning to standard procedure can occur. While the path back to normalcy is not entirely clear at present, there is a definite desire to follow suit with the return of in-person classes, and plans will be made as soon as possible.
According to Director of Athletics Chris Clunie ‘06, there are a few obstacles at present in the way of making formal plans or announcements. “There’s not a ton of clarity right now, whatever we do has to be in conjunction with the NCAA and their re-socialization guidelines with which we follow… And they just haven’t provided them,” said Clunie.
As he described, the NCAA has not released official guidelines. And when considering the different kinds of risks in different sports, it becomes even more complicated. Forecasting the environment for more high-risk sports, such as basketball and wrestling, is more difficult than doing so for a low-contact sport such as golf. When discussing the situation several months from now, it can be near-impossible to predict what case and vaccination numbers will look like on campus and nationwide.
The NCAA also has other reasons for holding out on updating their regulations: ongoing seasons. As Clunie described, “They just haven’t turned an eye towards next year, and what that will look like… So, we’re just kind of in a holding pattern, because we need the year to finish, need all competitions to be done before the NCAA finally turns their eye towards next season.”
While there is a lack of clarity with the official guidelines, it is clear what will make next season the success it could be – vaccinations. Vaccines are very important to the safety of those who would be at a higher COVID risk otherwise. They would allow us to become as open a campus as we could be. As Clunie said, “Vaccinations are going to play a big part in [Davidson’s re-socialization]. They’re going to have to change the policy to account for scholar athletes who have been vaccinated, coaches who have been vaccinated.”
Clunie was very encouraging in regard to student athletes receiving vaccinations. He stated he wanted them to become “Very common. That’s the goal, because there’s a reasonable justification for all athletes to be vaccinated. We’re engaging in high-risk activity. We’re traveling, competing against people from outside our community. So, it just makes sense to take every precaution necessary. And one of the biggest precautions you can take is to be vaccinated. So, we are strongly, strongly encouraging.”
They are even encouraging athletes to receive the vaccine in-season, attempting to figure out schedules to mitigate the effect of potential symptoms. Clunie cited many student athletes attending the vaccination clinic on campus two weeks ago as a great moment for him, saying “In season, out of season, it doesn’t matter.”
The athletic department has some specific hopes for protocols next year, as well. While nothing is for certain, an educated guess can lead to certain conclusions. According to Clunie, next year will probably see a change to limited-capacity indoor lifts from the current outside-only model. In addition, some teams, such as the football team, did not use locker rooms this year. That could change next year, in limited capacity. On a larger scale, some teams’ schedules may be affected. Rather than playing in small pods of schools or only facing regional competition, Clunie was hopeful that next year’s scheduling could be more normalized, extending to a reduction in delayed and cancelled events as well.
The hopes of the athletic department go beyond the fields and teams, though. A big part of next year could be the return of fans into the stands, beyond the limited capacity at present. With correct protocols for the campus and athletes, Clunie hopes to fill the stands as much as reasonably possible. “We’re hoping that atmospheres change and [become] more normalized, and we can have folks attend our events from the outside.”
Next year’s athletics pose a challenge. The uncertainty of the situation in terms of cases and vaccines makes the future murky, but ultimately, some educated guessing can lead to a vision of an exciting future. As Clunie summarized, “I feel good about what will be put in place. I do think we will see a greater return to a semblance of normalcy. So I feel good about where we’re moving. But we need to have that codified and formalized. Then we’ll be able to concretely decide.”