Over the last year, Emory Athletics, the University Athletic Association (UAA) and the NCAA have explored all options to resume competition as safely and as soon as possible. Student-athletes held out hope each semester that their sports could return in some capacity, whether it was returning to practice with their teammates or travelling to play against other schools. 

However, after 18 months of irregular sports seasons after the pandemic ensued in March 2020, all Emory Athletics teams are back in business this year and have been given the green light for UAA competition, full-strength practices and team gatherings.

Although on-campus sports are back, the pandemic is not gone. Emory and the athletics department are continuing to take precautions on campus, requiring students to be fully vaccinated unless there’s an exception and wear masks indoors. In an interview with the Wheel, Director of Athletics Keiko Price outlined the protocols in place to ensure a safe return to play.

“We are going to be following the same guidelines and safety measures that the campus is enforcing,” Price said. “We’re also adding additional measures, and all of this is really about trying to mitigate any sort of risk.”

Those additional measures apply to student-athletes and athletics staff that are not vaccinated. The NCAA released a document on Aug. 4 with updated COVID-19 guidance for fall sports. Vaccinated student-athletes won’t need to undergo regular COVID testing. However, those that are unvaccinated will be subject to the NCAA’s recommendation of testing three times a week, in addition to needing a series of negative antigen tests over five days before they can participate in sports, according to Price.

The NCAA released this information close to the beginning of athletics preseason. As the Delta variant spread rapidly across the world this summer, the extra time taken to outline the protocols was crucial in creating the best guidelines to keep everyone safe.

“Every athletic department in the country was eagerly awaiting to hear what their guidelines were,” Price said. “And I think part of that delay was tied to the variant, but also just wanting to see how the COVID landscape was unfolding across the world.”

As vaccines became widely available in the spring, teams returned to practice and played against local schools for the first time in over a year. Now, traveling up and down the east coast will resume with the restart of UAA play. Airports and planes are seen by many as an increased threat with hundreds of people gathered in tight spaces. 

“We are going to be following whatever guidelines are being established by the airlines,” Price said. “We’re going to require the athletes to wear masks during travel, so whether that’s not just the plane, but bus rides, vans, any sort of shared spaces, they’re going to have to wear masks. So as of now, we’re just following whatever guidelines are established by the CDC for travel.”

With all protocols in place, Emory Athletics looks forward to hosting competition on campus beginning Sept. 1. Price is also eager for a full athletics return not only for athletes but for the entire Emory community.

“I’m really excited for the athletes to be in their element, to be able to do what they love, to be able to thrive in a space that they’ve been unable to thrive in for a while,” Price said. “I know some of our spring sports were able to compete in the spring. But for everyone else, it’s been a while. And just to be able to compete at a high level excites me.”

Former first-year Page Nellis prepares to swing against Covenant College (Ga.) in a game last spring. Nellis and the Eagles’ softball team were required to wear masks in the dugout but wearing them on the field was optional. (Courtesy of Emory Athletics)