Are sports being prioritized?

Behind the decision to hold sports in person but many other campus activities online

Jessica Simms and Emily DiSalvo

Classes? Hybrid. Student organization meetings? Virtual. Live performances? Nonexistent. But sports practices and games? While not operating as usual, college athletes have spent more time face-to-face with other students than any other group on campus.

Sports cannot be carried out virtually, but many other campus activities have. Nonetheless, sports come with a higher risk than attending class.

College athletics are responsible for over 6,600 cases of COVID-19 in the United States as of December 2020. The NCAA does not track COVID-19 cases and the New York Times reported that many universities do not share the number of COVID-19 cases among athletes.

“Any cases amongst student-athletes since the start of the Fall semester have been included in the general student body report that is available on the University website,” Quinnipiac University associate athletic director Nick Sczerbinski said in an email. “There is no report that will separate these numbers, nor can we provide individual information due to institutional policies and guidelines.”

Athletics paused when Quinnipiac reached the red level of risk on campus at the end of the fall semester.

The number of cases linked to in-person classes so far is zero, according to a video from Chief Experience Officer Tom Ellett.

Under the Q-Flex model at Quinnipiac, students split time between attending classes in person and online. Student organizations, including Greek life, are not allowed to hold in-person meetings. These organizations are also not allowed to hold any off-campus events.

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In contrast, sports teams are subject to more frequent testing and thus are allowed to practice daily and attend games and meets off campus. Athletes such as senior women’s ice hockey defender Olivia Konigson said she feels confident that the protocols in place for athletics are working and could be implemented to help other organizations or even classes meet more frequently in person.

“I think there’s safe ways that they can make that happen,” Konigson said. “… Even if not everybody could meet in the meeting room at one time, I think that there are ways that we could make it work … Just as they do in the classroom with cohorts, and there are certain protocols to follow, but as long as we follow them, I think that they should be able to meet in person.”

Thornton Lockwood, professor of philosophy, said that the reasons for continuing sports despite the pandemic vary depending on what level of sports are being considered. At the collegiate level, Lockwood pointed to NCAA policies as well as the scholarships awarded to athletes.

“I’m sure that the NCAA is saying that if you are playing at an NCAA institution, you have to do this, this and this,” Lockwood said.

The scholarships awarded to student-athletes also create an obligation for universities, Lockwood said.

“What obligations does the university have to those students who are here as student-athletes?” Lockwood said. “That prioritization may be a function of the fact that we have an obligation to those students. They’ve been recruited, they’ve been admitted, given spots on teams with scholarships.”

At the national level, Lockwood, who is currently teaching a course in sports philosophy, said events like the Super Bowl went on because of money.

But at the high school level, he said that passion and pressure from athletes and parents is the reason many schools are still competing. Lockwood has a son in high school. He said that a massive protest gained traction at the Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference (CIAC) headquarters near his home.

“There were protests outside the offices of this oversight body basically saying ‘Let us play our seasons,’” Lockwood said. “Imagine you are a hockey player, you’re a senior, this is your last season. It was a powerful protest, but no one was wearing a mask.”

Under the CIAC guidelines for winter high school sports, “high risk” sports like wrestling, competitive dance and competitive cheer are only allowed to do conditioning practices.

On college campuses however, some students who are not on athletic teams are frustrated by the virtual format of many of their club meetings and classes.

Alyssa Arends, a member of the mock trial team at Quinnipiac as well as Quinnipiac Democrats, said that while sports are important, college is a place for education. She said that if classes move online as COVID-19 cases spike, sports should also be canceled.

“If COVID makes it too dangerous for classes to meet in person — which we know COVID isn’t spreading in the classroom because of social distancing and mask wearing — then absolutely no way should sports be meeting,” Arends said.


Greek Life


Like other student organizations, all sorority and fraternity meetings at Quinnipiac are virtual. While individual Greek organizations are allowed to hold in-person events, Katherine Pezzella, director of Campus Life for fraternity and sorority life, said that many chapters have opted to go virtual because of the restrictions placed on in-person gatherings.

“When they had a choice of doing something online or doing it in person, many just defaulted to online because it is the safer choice and because of space issues on campus,” Pezzella said. “Our space issues are incredibly real. Even pre-pandemic there are only a certain number of spaces on any of our three campuses where our sororities can all fit in a room together. Our average sorority size is 125 women.”

Now, all campus spaces have been reduced to a third of the normal capacity, so there are no places on campus where an entire sorority can be together.

While these organizations could hold hybrid events that operate like Q-Flex classes, most are opting to keep everyone in the same place. With almost a year of the pandemic under their belts, Pezzella said she is hoping that sororities and fraternities will be able to have more in-person events given increased information about how the virus spreads.

“We just know more about what is a high-risk situation and what is a low-risk situation,” Pezzella said.

Quinnipiac Dr. David Wang and the COVID-19 Task Force worked with Greek Life and other organizations to create a rubric to judge how risky a particular activity will be.

“Our goal is to encourage all student organizations to do more than they were doing in the fall because we are able to approve more things using this rubric,” Pezzella said.




Instead of eliminating theater productions in the fall 2020 semester, Kevin Daly, theater program director and associate professor of theater, decided that they would produce a hybrid production to keep students engaged.

“A lot of theater programs sort of looked at the pandemic and said, ‘Theater and the kind of health recommendations that are being made don’t go together so we’re not going to produce theater,’” Daly said. “I understood that decision and I see the merit in it, but I also saw people feeling very isolated, being locked away in a dorm room is not a fulfilling or meaningful experience. We said to ourselves what we can do safely and less about what we can do artistically.”

The hybrid production was going to include scenes that were done in person in the theater, some that were pre-filmed and some that were taking place live on Zoom. All of these scenes were integrated into a production and live streamed on YouTube. However, then the university shut down.

“All of the really cool stuff that they did with the pre-filming was able to be incorporated and there were some really cool graphics that they did,” Daly said. “That was the fall and then this spring, we tried it again.”

This semester, they are putting together a production called “An Iliad,” which is based on the classic Greek story. Daly said that this show is usually a one-person show, but they have casted seven Quinnipiac students who will take on different parts.

“They’re going to perform it in the theater and livestream for the audience,” Daly said. “We’re really excited about that … I think it’s going to end up being a really exciting production, but even before you get to that part, the process is going to be really meaningful for those involved.”

Daly said he does not try to compare sports and theater in how they operate, but that we can learn from both in terms of how they are practicing and competing in person in a safe manner.

“Sports are a different universe,” Daly said. “They operate on a different plane than we do in what they do for the university and who they serve and how they do that is a completely different thing, so I try not to compare it … I think that we learn from what they’re doing and try to adapt some of their policies so that we can do some of the in-person stuff too.”


Big Event


As much as the Big Event co-directors, Alyssa Lawson, senior health science studies major, and Kara Boninsegna, a senior in the Entry Level Masters Physician Assistant program, would like to have their meetings in person, they understand that going virtual is the safest option so they can have their event in person.

“You can’t collaborate one-on-one as easily as we can in person as we can on Zoom, but I do think that if it comes between having our event in person, and that means having the meetings on Zoom, I’m OK with that,” Lawson said.

Big Event has grown to be the largest single-day, student-run service project in the nation after being founded at Texas A&M University in 1982. Quinnipiac started hosting a Big Event in 2010 and during its 2019 Big Event, over 1,600 Quinnipiac students completed over 4,500 hours of service.

Lawson said that this year they had to get the Big Event approved by the school board, which is something they’ve never had to do before, but they are able to keep the heart of the event the same by still being able to send volunteers to different sites to complete service.

“We’re still able to send volunteers to a lot of the sites, but in regards to those sites, we do COVID-19 precautionary checks,” Lawson said. “We also had to change some of the sites or take away some of the sites depending on if they were accepting volunteers because a lot of things like the nursing homes aren’t accepting people into the actual facilities for obviously COVID-19 reasons.”

Along with having to modify which sites they can send volunteers to, Lawson said they also had to change the number of volunteers that can go to the different sites. In past years, some sites could take upward of 250 volunteers, but with COVID-19 capacity restrictions, that is no longer feasible.

Boninsegna said that they are still determining the size of teams but are recommending that people team up with members of their family unit.

“We’re hoping because suites on campus go up to eight to 10 people, we’re hoping to keep (teams) at eight to 10 people so that is great,” Boninsegna said. “For sororities and fraternities, a lot of their upperclassmen live together in houses so that keeps some of the organization together, which is really nice.”

The opening ceremony, which normally takes place in person in Burt Kahn Court, is now virtual. Since teams will have to pick up their tools in person, Lawson said they are having that be a contactless drive by.

“It’s going to be kind of a recorded version of (the opening ceremony) that’s going to be sent out to people,” Lawson said. “… To get their tools and everything like that, it’s going to be a drive thru process in North Lot. It’s completely no-contact and they come through and get their tools and their shirts and still be able to go straight to their volunteering site.”

While it may be different, Boninsegna said many clubs and organizations on campus are making the most of holding events and meetings virtually. She said that one thing she has learned as co-director is that communication is key.

“You can’t go to someone at the meeting and be like, ‘Listen, this is how it is. I’ll show you everything, the way I’m thinking,’” Boninsegna said. “You have to be like, ‘OK let me explain it to you through Zoom, while I’m over here in my dorm room and you’re across Hamden in your house. We’re going to get through this.’”


QU Athletics


Since there was not enough information released in the fall 2020 semester about how athletics could safely operate, the fall sports teams could not have their normal season. After having some more time to prepare, the hockey and basketball teams have been able to compete and now the spring and fall teams are preparing to begin their seasons this semester.

“We take a lot of measures to be able to play safely and to make sure that people do have the opportunity to play the sport of why they are at Quinnipiac and represent Quinnipiac in a great light,” said Maggie Pruitt, assistant director of athletics communications.

While practicing and competing amid the pandemic is challenging and different, Konigson is thankful for the opportunity to be able to play.

“There’s a lot of teams who’ve had their seasons canceled, and it’s not easy for anybody,” Konigson said. “It’s unprecedented, and there’s been a lot of adversity that everybody’s had to face. We’re just very grateful.”

Defender Olivia Konigson is grateful that her team was still able to have a season in her senior year. (Courtesy of QU Athletics)

Konigson said she thinks the protocols they follow are strong, but there is always a chance that something unprecedented could happen.

“You could contract COVID-19 no matter where you go, whether it is the grocery store or you’re traveling somewhere,” Konigson said. “As long as we’re taking the precautions we can, I feel that helps us feel safe.”

For the women’s basketball team, junior guard Mackenzie DeWees said that they all feel safe enough as teammates to not have to wear masks when practicing and playing, which follows both MAAC and NCAA rules.

“We started off wearing masks in the weight room and on the court in the beginning and then as we progressed with protocols and what we needed to do through the MAAC protocols, we were able to not wear masks on the court,” DeWees said. “… We all feel safe and that the MAAC is doing the right thing, so when we play, none of us wear masks. We feel that everybody has been tested and that everybody has been following the same protocols.”

As a women’s basketball player, DeWees said she feels as if she is a part of a bubble since she lives with other teammates and does not interact with other students outside of her team.

“A lot of us are online, some of us may be in one or two classes, so we’re really kind of separated from the general student body in that aspect,” DeWees said.

However, DeWees does not think that it is as easy to create that bubble for other students so they could have in-person clubs and activities due to how involved some students are.

“Students really want to be involved and that’s awesome, and I think that would be a lot for them to give up to really bubble each individual group and section you as we do as athletes,” DeWees said. “It’s something that we’ve been involved in since summer … I think that would be a tough thing to give up as a student. I think right now what they’re doing is to the best of their ability and hopefully in the fall, everything will be back to normal.”

And for right now, Konigson said that she is playing each game as if it is her last.

“You never know when COVID-19 is going to get worse, you never know if the rest of your season is going to get canceled or that your game that is coming up this next weekend is going to get canceled, so I think the few that we have, every game is very important to us that we do get to play,” Konigson said.