Eagles banners hang from an empty WoodPEC Gymnasium. Due to the University’s shift in operating status over winter break, basketball teams will play in empty gyms until Jan. 31. (Ally Hom/Photo Editor)

Despite Emory University’s decision to start the spring semester remotely, Emory Athletics is continuing business as usual. However, while the games will go on — assuming there are no COVID outbreaks — spectators will not be able to watch in-person. 

In an interview with the Wheel, Emory Athletic Director Keiko Price explained the choice to continue despite a remote academic start.

“We, as an institution, felt that it is in the best interest of our student-athletes to support their craft,” Price said. “We also knew that we would implement measures to ensure that their safety is taken into consideration as well. With all of that, we are happy to see our athletes practicing and competing in January.”

With the new protocols, Emory students are required to receive a negative COVID test prior to their arrival on campus. Athletes will also receive saliva screening tests twice a week. 

Despite the remote transition, Price explained why athletics moved forward with a fully in-person start.

“I can see how members of the community are upset, but at the same time, to continue sports is important to [the student-athlete] population,” Price said. “If they are expected to return when remote classes end, they would face additional challenges with mental and physical health by not being able to practice and compete having been away for a long break.”

As the men’s and women’s basketball teams enter the middle of the winter season, University Athletic Association (UAA) conference play is slated to get busier. The UAA is unique in Division III because the member universities are spread out around the country, with schools being from the Northeast, Midwest and Southeast. Cross-country travel is necessary for conference play and the rewards outweigh the risks, Price said.

“There is no discussion in the conference that we would limit travel,” Price said. “The Emory student-athlete vaccination rate is 99%. Our UAA colleagues have required the vaccine and have exceptionally high vaccination rates for their student-athlete populations. By limiting travel, we would basically not have a season for the conference, and that is not something UAA administrators have a desire to do.”

Price noted that prohibiting spectators for competition on campus was in line with the University’s goal to limit the spread of the virus. 

“Obviously, our hope is that we can open up to spectators after that date pending the environment at that point,” she said of the Jan. 31 return date. 

Senior guard Matthew Schner, one of the stars of the basketball team, is disappointed by the loss of fans and believes it will require an energy shift on his team. 

“Playing without fans in the arena is definitely an adjustment, especially at home,” Schner said. “The team has to bring our own energy and feed off of each other a lot more. With that said, we’re just grateful for every game on the schedule as uncertainty surrounding this variant continues. We are all hoping to get our fans back in the WoodPEC in February and looking forward to that environment again.”

If there is a positive test on an athletic team, student-athletes will not be treated any differently than others in the Emory community, Price said.

“We are following the same protocol for the student population, the same protocol that the CDC has,” Price said. “A team does not shut down from one positive. We follow the same process for contact tracing, working with Student Health Services.”

There will be heightened restrictions for the small percentage of athletes who are unvaccinated. They are required to get tested three times a week, per recommendation from the NCAA. While winter sports are in action, spring athletes are preparing to begin training for their upcoming seasons, and they are subject to the same testing and mitigation protocols.