On Wednesday, July 15, Kenyon College announced that they would be suspending all athletic competitions through the remainder of 2020.
The decision came after the North Coast Athletic Conference (NCAC) announced their plans for a conference-only fall schedule just six days prior. The NCAC’s most recent statement also detailed the right of each member school to institute heavier restrictions. Kenyon chose to exercise this autonomy, just as it did in March when the spring season was halted.
While the College acknowledges the thoroughness of the NCAC’s plan, it does not feel comfortable subjecting its athletes to the current level of risk. In a livestreamed open forum on July 16, Director of Athletics, Fitness and Recreation Jill McCartney noted that student-athlete travel and the presence of people in Gambier from campuses other than Kenyon are dangerous opportunities for exposure. “Each institution will need to make a choice about what is right for its own campus and situation,” McCartney said.
In their announcement, the NCAC proposed a start date of Sept. 18 that would involve a gradual return to team activities, based on advice from public health experts and government officials. In order to limit the risk of exposure, there would be no overnight travel for away games in the schedule. The conference plans to group teams based on their proximity to one another.
During the open forum on Thursday, Kenyon’s Department of Athletics, Fitness and Recreation laid out guidelines on pressing issues like athlete eligibility, the process of returning to play and the reopening of the Kenyon Athletic Center (KAC).
While athletic competition is suspended until further notice, athletics on campus will continue this fall. On-campus practices will follow National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) guidelines for return to play, though only student-athletes residing on campus will be able to participate in practices. This means that, in the fall, only first years, sophomores, international students and the few others who have successfully petitioned to stay on campus will be eligible to participate. In the spring, the same guidelines will apply. Only students residing on campus will be able to compete for Kenyon if the College chooses to rejoin NCAC competition in the spring. The school is hopeful that student-athletes will be able to practice in the same 4-7 p.m. window that they normally would. The status of club and intramural sports is still uncertain, but a fitness app and virtual challenges are being created for interested students.
McCartney also noted the possibility of moving fall sports schedules to the spring, but details are yet to be determined. Assistant Athletic Director Justin Newell urged athletes who are considering not returning this semester in order to receive another season of eligibility to consider academic ramifications before making any decision.
Kenyon did consider allowing a small number of non-contact sports to continue competition for the fall. However, a number of factors gave the athletics department reason for pause. In addition to the difficulty in determining which sports were truly “non-contact,” fear of preferential treatment and uncertainty about the safety of traveling made a full cancellation the most logical choice.
The Department is continuing to work on plans to open the KAC before students’ arrival. Protocols will likely include wearing masks when not conducting a workout, cleaning equipment after use and signing up for a time slot in advance of a visit.
As far as a return to athletic events, the College will follow the NCAA’s phased approach. The first phase involves primarily individual workouts with occasional group workouts of under 10 participants. The focus of this phase is getting people back to fitness while ensuring a lack of exposure. There will be no shared equipment and workouts will all follow social distancing protocols. The second phase will increase group sizes to around 50. Social distancing policies will remain in place during phase two workouts, with the goal of increasing fitness before starting normal team workouts. This will reduce the risk of overexertion injuries. The last phase of the NCAA plan will aim to gradually return to normal practices. Athletes who test positive for COVID-19 will be entered into a 10-14 day quarantine. However, if an athlete does test positive, team activities will not be immediately shut down. The school will begin a sequence of contact tracing in order to find other exposed individuals.
The dates for the NCAA phased approach are not finalized and are expected to fluctuate as new information emerges about COVID-19 and its status in the United States.