When the coronavirus shut down campus in early March, the intramural sports program at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln felt the same impact that the rest of the university did.
“We were just starting basketball playoffs when we got shut down,” Zac Brost, the senior assistant director for sports programs, said. “We had a whole slate of major team sports that were just getting ready to start up — softball, indoor volleyball, outdoor soccer, some of those things — so that put a quick end to those sorts of traditional activities.”
Brost and other members of the Campus Recreation Center staff pivoted to remote activities in the face of “traditional” sports being canceled. The aim was to provide some sort of intramural experience for students throughout the rest of the semester and during the summer. Offerings included running and cycling challenges, esports tournaments and a Thursday night trivia activity in collaboration with the Nebraska Union.
Additionally, students could play a round of golf at any course of their choosing, take a picture of a moment during the round and submit it with their scorecard any time during the week. The rec center then drew a winner at random from the submissions each week and emailed the winning student an intramural shirt.
“We wanted to keep them invested in the program,” sports program coordinator Aaron Dueker said. “We weren’t able to finish out the year the way we wanted to, so we wanted to find ways to still engage and make sure they had things to do other than stay at home and sit in their remote classes all day.”
During the summer, the rec center continued to hold remote activities for intramurals while staff members began formulating a plan for what activities could be held in the fall. Once the university announced there would be in-person classes during the fall semester, Brost said the conversation centered around providing in-person activities for students.
“We feel pretty strongly that if we’re going to have students on campus, we need to be providing an on-campus experience for them,” he said.
Staff members spent much of the summer looking at which activities could be offered, discussing how those activities could be held and finding the best precautions to take in order to safely provide intramural sports in the fall. The result is a fall intramural calendar full of familiar activities with new tweaks.
Flag football will be offered, but rather than playing the traditional seven-on-seven, it will be limited to four-on-four. There will be soccer in the fall as well, but the indoor and outdoor seasons have been switched. Outdoor soccer will be played in the fall, likely also with a reduced number of players for teams. Another intramural option is a two-person golf scramble at Highlands Golf Course in late September.
The rec center has implemented several measures to limit contact between students, according to Brost. Fewer games will be played at any given time, meaning fewer students will be in a facility at any point. There will also be an increased time between games to limit the overlap between students leaving after one game and students arriving for the next one.
When the six-feet requirement for social distancing can be maintained, it will be. This includes entering a facility, checking into a game, standing on the sideline during the game and leaving the facility.
Students will also be required to wear face coverings both in facilities and during games, Brost said. This aligns with the face covering requirements imposed almost everywhere on campus.
The rec center is also enforcing increased cleaning protocols for athletic equipment used in intramural sports. This includes wearing protective gloves and disinfecting equipment in between games, if not in between each half. There will be a bigger focus on hand sanitizer and handwashing stations than in previous years.
“I don’t think I’m the only one that’s washed his hands more in the last three months than I have in quite some time before that, but that’s going to be part of the protocol as well,” Brost said. “As students enter our facility, they’re sanitizing before they ever get started.”
Students who do not wish to participate in in-person intramural activities won’t be left out, as there will still be remote activities this fall. Notably, Brost said the remote trivia event held in collaboration with the Union will continue this fall, likely on every other Thursday night.
When staff members didn’t feel they could execute the proper amount of safety measures for an intramural event, it got dropped. That led to the removal of a couple activities from previous years, notably broomball and bubble soccer. Both events featured higher levels of contact and shared equipment, making it nearly impossible to enforce safe competition while protecting students from the coronavirus.
“We know that physical distancing can’t necessarily be maintained 100 percent of the time,” Brost said. “We’re going to have very brief periods of students coming into close contact with each other, but we feel like as brief as those moments are and wearing face coverings, we can do what we do safely.”