The echoes inside Reed Gym will persist. Idaho State announced Monday that both the men’s and women’s basketball teams will start the season with no fans allowed to attend.
The decision seemed imminent after Idaho Governor Brad Little returned the state to Stage 2 of its COVID-19 restrictions, which limits the capacity of public and social gatherings to just 10, last week. As it pertains to basketball, players, coaches and other gameday crew will be deemed essential personnel.
“We’ve been working in conjunction with the University Health Committee and the District Health Department to determine the safest way to proceed with fans in the stands,” ISU Athletic Director Pauline Thiros said in a statement. “Ultimately, as cases are continuing to rise and the State of Idaho returns to Stage 2, the most prudent course of action is to eliminate additional risk to community and student-athletes.
“We will begin our season without fans in Reed Gym. It was a very difficult decision, but one we know is in the best interest of the health and safety of our fans, staff, and student-athletes.”
Of course, the situation is fluid. In its statement, Idaho State admitted it will “continue to monitor the landscape of the pandemic with the intention of allowing spectators if the situation changes and conditions allow.”
In the last two weeks, Bannock County has tallied almost 700 new cases of COVID-19, which accounts for nearly 20 percent of the county’s total cases since the pandemic began in the spring.
Furthermore, spikes among ISU students, teachers and staff have also risen. After failing to record more than 42 cases in a week since bringing students back in July, ISU has recorded six-straight weeks with 49 or more cases, including three weeks with more than 60.
At the end of October, the men’s basketball team was forced to quarantine after at least one person within the program tested positive for COVID-19.
The ISU women’s team, which was ranked second in the Big Sky preseason media poll, has yet to release its non-conference schedule, but the men won’t play in vacant Reed Gym until their Dec. 15 matchup with Eastern Oregon. That home opener follows a three-game tournament in Santa Clara, California, and a big-time contest against Utah.
“We definitely lose an advantage we normally have in Reed Gym with the crowd,” women’s coach Seton Sobolewski said. “We just have to play with the cards we were dealt and make the best of it that we can. I’m not surprised.
“I’m disappointed, but there’s nothing I can do about it, and harping on it or worrying about it is not going to do any good. We just have to do the best we can under the circumstances.”
Sobolewski did say that the women’s team was exploring the possibility of playing artificial crowd noise during games.
The school noted it has not renewed men’s and women’s basketball season tickets for this season because of the uncertainty.
For fans and parents, there still a few ways to follow along. All Big Sky Conference games will be available on Pluto TV, and all ISU basketball games will be available on the radio. Because of the pandemic, radio announcers Jerry Miller (men’s) and Mark Liptak (women’s) will not travel to away games, instead calling the games remotely.