The UAA volleyball team will start the new pandemic season the same way it started the old pandemic season:
Playing in empty gyms in Hawaii, a place that didn’t want visitors then and doesn’t want visitors now, thank you very much.
The Seawolves will play four matches Friday through Sunday in Honolulu — two against Hawaii Pacific and two against Chaminade University. The matches come about four months after UAA wrapped up a pandemic-shortened 2020-21 season with a five-match trip to Hawaii in late April.
This time when the Seawolves take the court, they will do so against vaccinated opponents. Hawaii Pacific and Chaminade both require vaccines for their NCAA athletes.
So does the University of Alaska Fairbanks, whose volleyball team is also opening the season this week in Hawaii. And so do a number of other schools that play with UAA and UAF in the Great Northwest Athletic Conference.
UAA does not.
“As of now, we are not making vaccination mandatory,” UAA athletic director Greg Myford said Thursday morning by email, noting “the need to remain adaptable.”
He said 90% of the school’s athletes and coaches are vaccinated and everyone at the Alaska Airlines Center is wearing masks.
“Is there a risk? Certainly,” Myford said. “But, as we are seeing nationwide, that is going to be the case regardless.”
UAA has about 130 athletes competing in 11 NCAA sports and about 30 coaches and staff members (hockey is one of the 11 sports, but currently there are no players on the team as the fate of the program rests on a fundraising campaign).
Myford said the athletic department advocates that everyone get vaccinated.
“We want to educate them on the merits of doing so, and allow them to reach the conclusion to vaccinate based on those merits and their own understanding,” he said.
Myford said a decision whether to make vaccines mandatory would ultimately come from Sean Parnell, the school’s new chancellor and Alaska’s former Republican governor. Senior administrators and campus safety and medical staff would have input, he said.
In a letter sent last week to students, faculty and staff, UAF chancellor Dan White said interstate travel is one reason the Fairbanks school requires its athletes to be vaccinated.
“Because of the increased COVID-19 risk from competition inherent to intercollegiate sports, the associated travel, and the COVID rules and policies of our competitors, UAF athletics is unique in many regards,” White wrote. “After communication with the team physician, and with the support of athletic director Brock Anundson, UAF will now require that intercollegiate athletes be vaccinated against COVID-19 or have an approved waiver.”
UAF athletes have until Oct. 29 to be fully vaccinated or receive an approved waiver.
At this week’s volleyball matches in Hawaii, no spectators will be allowed.
“With the dramatic rise in cases and hospital beds near capacity, we are not allowing fans at McCabe Gymnasium, our home facility,” Chaminade sports information director Kevin Hashiro said by email.
“We could have hosted with limited fans; however, we are following suit with the rest of the collegiate athletic departments in the state to not allow fans until the cases decrease.”
Bill Powers, the assistant athletic director at Hawaii Pacific, said the matches will be played thanks to exemptions to recently imposed limits on the size of gatherings in Honolulu.
“Both the state of Hawai’i and the city/county have exemptions for educational institutions, so we can play the contests,” he said by email. “Only the two teams and essential personnel (vaccinated, appropriately masked) will be present.”
After they return from Hawaii, the Seawolves and Nanooks will host tournaments on back-to-back weekends.
UAA will host UAF plus teams from Texas, California, Missouri and Indiana in a Sept. 2-4 tournament, and UAF will host UAA plus teams from Ohio, Colorado, California and Missouri in a Sept. 9-11 tournament.
Spectators weren’t allowed at last weekend’s annual UAA alumni match but will be allowed at the tournament. Masks will be required and and people attending in groups can sit next to each other, with seats assigned so there is space between groups.
This story has been updated with UAA’s attendance policy for next week’s volleyball tournament.