With all fall sports at USD moved to the spring semester, USD’s athletic facilities have a packed spring while still adjusting to the ever changing world of COVID-19.
Corey Jenkins, the senior associate athletic director for facilities and operations, has been working with the rest of the athletic department to coordinate plans for the spring semester. Jenkins said they have had a few socially distanced events this fall.
(The events) were certainly very unique and very different from what we’re accustomed to as we implement our reserve social distance seatings, mass requirements, hand sanitizer stations everywhere, totally changed up how we handle things like concessions,” Jenkins said. “And I think that these events have been important learning opportunities as we prepare for what will be a very busy spring and certainly look to improve upon how we handle these events and providing a safe environment as we can.”
This fall, USD’s 2020 commencement ceremony was hosted inside the Sanford Coyote Sports Center in October. The DakotaDome hosted a fall football scrimmage, and last week the high school football championships. The first USD sporting event on campus is currently scheduled for Dec. 6, when the women’s basketball team hosts Lipscomb.
Basketball, volleyball and soccer have conference schedules set up to limit travel by hosting the same team twice on a single weekend. Jenkins said that this busy schedule is a great learning experience for some of his staff.
“(This) presents kind of a unique opportunity for people like practicum interns and graduate assistants that are always involved, but now we’re going to be kind of forced in a way to give them a lot more responsibility, which is a fantastic opportunity for those individuals,” Jenkins said. “And we’re very fortunate we’ve got some really good ones this year. So I know they can handle it.”
Jenkins said the keys to navigating the busy schedule are organization and all hands on deck. Coaching staffs will have to cooperate with facilities management for practice schedules to ensure that practice spaces are available and cleaned properly before a different group of athletes enter the weight room or practice gym.
“Just making sure that we partner well, communicate well, across campus,” Jenkins said. “So whether it’s the grounds departments, the Facilities Management Department, we’re all going to have to really work closely together to make sure we’re staying ahead of everything that’s on the schedule and, taking care of every event and giving it its own due diligence as we move through a very busy spring.”
Hosting events inside the facilities is only part of the battle. Jenkins said that teams will have to be willing to cooperate in order for each team to have space to practice. Football, track and field, softball and golf all practice inside the Dome over the winter months.
“Scheduling is of paramount importance,” Jenkins said. “We’re also going to be asking some of our programs to practice at times where they may not normally practice when they’re in season. So either you know go into a 7 pm practice or really early 6 am practice so that we can take care of everyone. With the dome and the SCSC certainly being where the majority of our programs practice, there’s a lot of overlaps there in time.”
Jenkins said that they are still in the process of figuring out everyone’s schedules for practices, but it is important for the programs to communicate and be willing to share their training space.
“We’re asking for flexibility from our coaching staff and our student athletes as well to kind of work with us and be understanding that we’re going to do the best we can to take care of everybody,” Jenkins said. “But with the realization that probably everyone is going to have to concede something along the way this spring.”
WIth basketball and volleyball being played at the same time and the hopes of having fans in the SCSC this spring, Jenkins said the athletic department has electrostatic sprayers that will be used to clean the seating bowl between events. The sprayers take a few hours to get every seat cleaned.
These sprayers will be especially helpful on days with multiple events. Jenkins said having combined basketball season tickets will hopefully keep fans in the same seats for basketball games, but if volleyball and basketball games are on the same day, the crowd turnover will be the most important thing to manage and clean for.
“It’s a pretty complex jigsaw puzzle to put together, that our ticket office works on,” Jenkins said. “The goal is consistent seating in a lot of ways, which we’re able to hold true in basketball. And as we switch to volleyball, it’s working on scenarios of having that opportunity to clean between events.”
The COVID-19 policies and guidelines are ever changing, and the athletic department is following the changes as they come. Jenkins said the most important thing in everything is to be fluid.
“I think the number one thing is probably that everything’s extremely fluid, as it relates to COVID,” Jenkins said. “It’s a real challenge because it feels like you come up with a good game plan, and then whether it’s national or local guidelines get tweaked a little bit, and you have to adjust to that. So while we’re planning on spectators, that’s obviously a fluid situation. And we’ll continue to look at policies and procedures that put us in a situation and provide a safe atmosphere as possible.”