Laurita says safety of students is top priority
By Collin Frazier
With the cold weather setting in, the risk of COVID-19 spreading has increased drastically. Due to this, and the rise in cases in both Hancock County and the University of Findlay, UF officials have decided to halt all spectators for indoor competition.
UF Athletic Director Brandi Laurita says the decision was considered carefully and made for the safety of students, while allowing competitions to continue
“This was not a conference decision, it was a university decision that is best for The University of Findlay campus,” said Laurita. “We did not take this decision lightly for our indoor competitions, but with our main priority being to allow for athletic competition and complete the conference schedule we feel not allowing any spectators into the facility provides us with the best path to competition.”
According to Laurita each institution in the GMAC has the ability to decide if they will allow spectators within the guidelines set by the state and local authorities.
“We have parents and fans traveling from multiple cities and states that increases our likelihood of transmission of COVID-19 to our student-athletes and staff,” Laurita said. “We are also a residential campus, and the safety of our campus community is of the utmost priority, bringing outside groups (spectators) onto campus is not in the best interest of all members of campus.”
To compensate for this decision, Laurita says that the athletic events will be streamed for fans and supporters to enjoy their Oilers.
Women’s Head Basketball Coach James Wiede says that while he and the team are disappointed, they recognize that safety is what matters most.
“None of us are happy about the decision, but we understand the reason why the university made that decision and we support it. Player and staff safety are the #1 priority. It’s just a crazy time right now.” said Wiede. “The atmosphere at a UF game is totally different than anywhere else. Because we play double headers with our men, the crowds are bigger and louder than anywhere else. We definitely have a home court advantage. Not having those fans in the stands this year definitely impacts the atmosphere. It’s going to be weird, but it is what it is.”
Men’s Head Basketball Coach Charlie Ernst echoes Wiede’s feeling of missing the home crowd, but also realizes that player safety is what matters most.
““The electric atmosphere of The Croy Center/Niekamp Arena is something that we are all proud of and gets many people excited every winter. We’re excited for the day that overflow crowds and screaming voices fill the building again,” Ernst proclaimed. “Unfortunately, that will have to be put on hold until we can safely do it again. The ‘Croy Advantage’ will not exist this year. As the head coach, my first priority has to be safety.”
Ernst also noted how despite the lack of home-court advantage, business will carry on as usual.
“I’m sure our leadership thought this through and feel this is the best decision for now,” Ernst commented. “I respect the decision and hope the virus will dissipate enough that we might be able to welcome back a reduced group later in the year. Regardless, we will prepare our team the same way on the floor and will learn to adjust. While our home crowd is tremendous, we have won many games with good players, great execution, and unselfish teamwork. The keys to winning the GMAC won’t change.”
Pending a decrease in COVID-19 cases, spectators, primarily families first, will be allowed back to competitions.
“We will continue to evaluate the COVID-19 cases in the area and within the University campus. If there becomes a time when we feel that we can safely have spectators, we would first begin with families of our student-athletes then open the opportunity to others,” Laurita said.
Laurita has a message for Oilernation.
“Our priority in this time of uncertainty is the health and safety of Oilernation, including not just our student-athletes but all who call UF home. We can understand the disappointment of closing our indoor athletic competitions to spectators but hope that our loyal supporters and the campus community will continue to follow online and join us in person again once it is deemed safe.”