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Michigan State’s Intramural Sports Programs Navigate COVID-19 Shutdown And Rules

Tennis
Adam Bakr
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The extracurricular intramural sports program at MSU is an important part of the student experience. But what happens to them during a pandemic?

EAST LANSING, Mich. – After not happening in the fall of 2020 due to COVID-19 protocols, Michigan State Intramural sports, also called IM, were able to come back this spring. 

Sports requiring close contact were not yet cleared to play, so there were a limited amount of sports for this session. The spring selection included 2-v-2 sand volleyball, pickleball and cornhole. The games were held at the IM East Fields, Munn Fields and the Vet Med Fields. The season took place in April. 

“Bringing back IM sports was about providing our students with an opportunity to engage in healthy behaviors, in a safe manner,” said Ross Winter, the Assistant Director of Recreational Sports and Fitness Services. “The IM Sports program at MSU cherishes the opportunity to program activities for our students, faculty, and staff so that they can participate and engage with one another.”

It was not a simple process to bring back Intramural sports. Plenty of plans were made, with multiple changes to each one. Before a plan could pass, University Physician Dr. David Weismantel had to approve. The final plans allowed these sports as they all have low numbers and could be adjusted for extra distancing and precaution. There was also a close eye on campus COVID-19 rates, as well as the rates in surrounding cities during the process. 

“It starts with needing to be in compliance with Gov. Gretchen Whitmer,” Director of Recreational Sports and Fitness Services Dr. Richard McNeil said. “Our sports restrictions have been more strict than what the governor has allowed for high schools.” 

This leaves out sports like outdoor soccer and basketball, where controlled distancing does not align with how the sport is played. The stricter guidelines in what returned meant Intramural sports were unaffected when Gov. Gretchen Whitmer asked that high school sports take a two-week break from play. Had contact sports been underway, there would have been a pause. 

Precautions go beyond just what Intramural sports are offered. Throughout campus, basketball rims and volleyball nets have been taken down as there is no way to regulate how they are being used. In the IM facilities, IM East and West, only shoot arounds are allowed with two people at the hoop. 

Contract tracing is in place if any student were to test positive. This is for both the recent return to Intramural sports, and the IM facilities, which have been open since October. Through the guidelines and contact tracing, not a single case of COVID-19 has been traced to being contacted in the facilities. 

“All of these strict measures have one goal in mind,” McNeil said.  “That is to get to the fall and get vaccinated, so that the fall of 2021 will look more like the fall of 2019. Our expectation is that Ross [Winter] will be able to run IM sports this fall the same way he did two years ago.”

If all goes according to plan, the next sport to return would be softball in the summer. Close contact is limited to tag plays at bases and would quickly be over with. Masks would be required, and the officials would be able to help enforce and maintain distancing. It will still be too soon for sports with more contact to return, and the rims and nets that were taken down will likely stay down. 

“I think the limited number of activities we have offered have done an excellent job setting the stage for more activities in the future,” Winter said. “Our participants have enjoyed their experience so far. Our staff has done everything asked of them to keep everyone safe and our administration has supported our efforts to do so.”

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