In response to the announcement about the Jan. 2 start of in-conference basketball games, Lehigh Athletic Director Joe Sterrett shares that athletics will be piloting new testing protocols. The new protocols will continue into the spring semester. (Courtesy of Lehigh Sports)

Joe Sterrett discusses in-conference basketball season, coronavirus testing

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In the wake of the Patriot League Council of President’s decision to begin an in-conference basketball season on Jan. 2, Lehigh Athletic Director Joe Sterrett said the biggest change from the fall to spring semester will be testing protocols among athletes.

Sterrett said starting this week, athletics will be piloting new testing protocols within several of Lehigh’s teams. 

The new system, which will start out by testing athletes once a week with PCR testing and migrate into testing multiple times per week, will continue into the spring semester. Sterrett said the reason for starting now is to work out logistics and figure out turnaround times. He said the plan could be altered based on their learned experience. 

“Preparing for and into second semester, we’re going to have to test a lot more to ensure that we’ve got healthy people that are going to be engaged in competition,” Sterrett said. “We spend a lot of time looking at testing options and protocols, and we’re certain we’ll be doing more testing of our athletes on a regular, consistent basis.”

Prior to this week, athletes at Lehigh had undergone similar testing protocols to the general Lehigh student population, with mandatory testing for non-remote students during the first two weeks of the semester and several rounds of random surveillance testing that began the week of Sept. 28.

In regard to approving the 16-game in-conference basketball schedule, Sterrett said the Council of Presidents got to a point where with the input they had, accrued learned experiences from other leagues and with the guidance they provided administrators to reduce risks, they felt comfortable approving the plan for a season. Even still, Sterrett stressed the schedule isn’t a certainty. 

“All of that could change if the external environment doesn’t allow it,” Sterrett said. “As you’ve seen teams that have tried to get started with competition, sometimes they have to suspend for a period. And we may go through that as well. I think they’re doing the best they can do to provide a safe and healthy opportunity for kids to compete.”

Sterrett said the reason a decision was only made on men’s and women’s basketball is because a decision on their season was needed before other Patriot League sports.

While wrestling is also a winter sport, Lehigh wrestling competes in the EIWA Conference and is subject to different guidance and decision making than the Patriot League. Sterrett said a decision on wrestling has yet to be made by the EIWA. He said Lehigh’s team is preparing to compete in January despite the uncertainty. 

Unlike basketball, which intends to start a season on Jan. 2, Sterrett said fall sports and spring sports will return to campus at the same time as the general student population and will not be able to begin competition for at least four weeks after the start of the semester.

 With the emerging possibility of a vaccine, evolving testing options and constant change in the dynamic of the coronavirus pandemic in the U.S., Sterrett said it didn’t make sense to finalize something now that could be forced to change later.

Right now, Sterrett said significant attention is going toward the reallocation of the athletic budget to prepare for potential spring seasons.

“We have to redo every aspect of our operation at this point,” Sterrett said. “That’s where we’re spending our time right now. The planning of that, when we get closer to that point and need to make a decision, that’s what we’ll do.” 

Aside from testing and spring competition, Sterrett said the reason the swimming and diving Patriot League Championship was pushed back to April 21-24 and why the league is still exploring formats for the indoor track and field championship is due to current challenges with indoor capacity.

Even without fans, current state limits with indoor capacity among Patriot League schools would not allow either championship to proceed in a traditional manner.

Sterrett said a decision on if an indoor track and field championship can even take place will be made in the coming weeks.

The Patriot League’s Nov. 9 release did not specify how the league would proceed with fan attendance. Sterrett said there has been no decision yet on if fans would be able to attend games next semester, how many could attend or who would be able to attend.

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