CMU Athletics: practices, lifts, and pandemic protocols

Carnegie Mellon athletes have returned to school this fall to practice for an uncertain spring season.

The coronavirus pandemic led to the cancellation of sports last spring, and then this fall. Now, teams that still want to engage in sports have returned on a limited basis to practice while competitive events are still canceled. With new restrictions on practices to prevent the spread of COVID-19, teams have begun to return some small sense of normalcy to their operations during an abnormal season, and coaches have begun tentative plans for competitive events in the spring.

The players that have returned vary in terms of class and sport. According to coaches across multiple sports, some players are studying remotely or otherwise opting out of sports, and some seniors have opted out, too. However, some teams committed to returning in the fall. Senior Stefanie McMillan, a Carnegie Mellon swimmer, said that most of the swim team has committed to returning. Josh Centor, Carnegie Mellon's Director of Athletics, conceded, "not all of our student athletes are here. We know that, and that's okay."

Centor, also the head of Carnegie Mellon's Return to Play Committee, said restrictions were decided sport-by-sport. He said each coach submitted practice plans to the task force, with the task force giving feedback to coaches on how they could modify plans for approval to start practicing. Additionally, there are capacity limits for the gyms on campus, and according to Centor, "we've de-densified the pool".

Richard Lackner, the head football coach, said that his team tries to socially distance and wear masks during practice. The players do not wear shoulder pads since "there's no need to have shoulder pads on when you can't hit each other."

Practice and weightlifting are also restricted to small groups of players, so coaches have to run more practices. Lackner compared the challenge of scheduling new groups to "a huge Rubik’s cube." "Both my coordinators and my kicking game coordinator looked at all the various schedules and said, 'when can we get together with this group of players and that group of players?'"

Putting together practice groups has been another challenge for teams. While football groups players by position, the swim team opted to make groups based on availability and which teammates are living together, according to McMillan. She said players submitted their availability and housemates to form groups for practices and weightlifting.

The football team is one of the few teams with a schedule for the spring. The Carnegie Mellon football team is a member of the Presidents' Athletic Conference, which released a tentative schedule for the spring. Lackner said, “Just having the potential of a five-game schedule in the spring next semester is certainly something that gives us some hope.”

Plans for most other teams to compete are not set. Yon Struble, the head women's soccer coach, said, "I'm going to be very challenged to find and put together a spring schedule." He added that he is contacting Division I and Division II teams to schedule games: "The level of our opponent is not as important as just getting the opportunity to play."