Pfeiffer University sports have kicked into high gear this spring semester.
All of Pfeiffer’s teams – including those whose seasons were cancelled this past fall because of the COVID-19 pandemic – will compete against other schools in abbreviated seasons between now and commencement, with each team’s season starting at a different point during the semester. Cheerleading and dance squads will also participate.
Jamaal David ’21, a communication major at Pfeiffer from Clinton, M.D., couldn’t be happier that sports are back. A starting guard and captain on the men’s basketball team, he hopes that he and his hoops teammates win the USA South Athletic Conference and, then, the NCAA Division III Championship.
“We have all the pieces to make it possible and I’m excited to kick it off,” he said a few days before the season opener against Averett University.
During a recent interview, Danielle Lafferty ’15 MBA, Pfeiffer’s Director of Athletics, expressed similar enthusiasm for the resumption of athletics at Pfeiffer. She also went into greater detail about the current athletics regime, answering questions on such topics as testing, spectator policies, championships, and eligibility issues.
Why have sports resumed at Pfeiffer?
Sports are a big part of the school’s culture: About 45 percent of our students play on one or more of 21 teams. In order to give our student-athletes the experience that they’re looking for, we want to provide them as much opportunity as possible in the safest, healthiest way we can. We feel we’re doing exactly what we need to be doing based on NCAA and USA South protocols and on CDC guidelines.
What accounts for the concentration of all sports into one semester?
We’re playing in one semester because we believe it is important to give opportunities to the members of our fall sports teams, whose time was cut short last semester after the NCAA cancelled championships. We’re talking about men’s and women’s soccer, volleyball, and cross country – all these sports typically start up as soon as the fall semester begins. Given the rapid pace of COVID on nearly every campus across the country in 2020, we were not in a position, budget-wise, to jump immediately into COVID testing for every student-athlete prior to competition. The NCAA thought that the risk was too high to compete, and the decision was made to cancel any championships for soccer, volleyball and cross country.
So, is pregame testing now available for players on all of Pfeiffer’s teams?
Yes. Each of Pfeiffer’s sports teams will follow a testing protocol that correlates with a particular team’s risk for catching the Coronavirus. Basketball and volleyball, for example, are high-risk sports, while baseball and softball are at the intermediate level in terms of risk.
The men’s and women’s basketball teams began play earlier this month. What is the testing protocol for them?
We’re pretty much testing at least once a week for men’s and women’s basketball. More specifically, you get tested within 72 hours of a competition through a RT-PCR test. This is for competition against a single opponent you can play as many times as you want within a 42-hour window. You can play two games against that same opponent within a 48-hour period, as long as each game is within three days from the test date.
What are the testing protocols for sports other than basketball?
They’re being finalized and will be announced soon. Again, testing will depend on the risk that each team faces. For baseball and softball, for example, we're not going to be testing like we are with basketball. It may be that players will be tested once a week, with 25 to 50 percent of their rosters being tested prior to competitions.
What happens if players or coaches test positive?
Schedules will be altered. This has already happened in the case of Pfeiffer’s women’s basketball team. Their games against Meredith College, which were scheduled originally for Jan. 15 and 17, were postponed, and USA South is exploring whether they can be played at a later date.
When we have positive cases, the steps that we have to take include immediate quarantine and reports to the health department. The health department does contact tracing, identifying all the individuals that need to be isolated and quarantined. We think that the research says that many of the positive cases among student-athletes are coming more from their social activities, rather than from practice or from games and competing. We’re urging our student-athletes to make good lifestyle choices.
Let’s shift gears and talk about championships. Which sports teams will have a chance to participate in NCAA championships in the spring?
The NCAA championships for fall sports remain cancelled. However, fall sports teams will compete for titles in the USA South Athletic Conference.
As for winter and spring sports teams, they’ll each have a chance to compete for spots in NCAA tournaments. A berth in the NCAAs is contingent on winning the USA South.
Will fans of Pfeiffer sports teams be able to watch them play?
Earlier this month, USA South instituted a no-spectator policy for any indoor sporting event of the conference. A spectator policy for outdoor events hasn’t been determined yet.
Is there anything else you’d like to add to this discussion?
Yes. The NCAA has granted eligibility-related waivers for all student-athletes because of COVID. In other words, they get a free pass this year, and they’re eligible to compete next year if they remain full-time degree-seeking students.