CHAMPAIGN — Illinois athletic director Josh Whitman laid out what gameday would look like this fall. The plan remains for the Illini to compete in football, volleyball, soccer and cross-country with Big Ten-only schedules.
The how, of course, is different. Attendance will be limited to 20 percent capacity at Memorial Stadium and Demirjian Park. For now, Huff Hall will be empty save for the competing teams.
Illinois won’t just be playing at home, though. Roughly half the season — particularly taking into account a conference-only schedule — will play out away from Champaign-Urbana.
“Travel is one of the elements that is prevalent throughout college sports, and trying to figure out a way to do that in the most health-conscious way has been a focus here during the last several months,” Whitman said during last week’s university COVID-19 briefing livestream on athletics. “I think what you’ll see as we work through the scheduling process is an effort from the conference to minimize air travel maybe to the point of eliminating commercial air travel.”
Doing away with commercial air travel won’t affect Illinois football. Lovie Smith’s team takes charter flights for nearly all road games. Chris Tamas’ Illini volleyball team also charters at times during Big Ten play.
“Those teams would probably be expected to continue to do that,” Whitman said. “For those teams that traditionally fly commercial, I think we’ll be looking at some scheduling opportunities to try and maximize chances for them to bus so they can stay out of the airports and out of airplanes as much as possible.”
Mode of transportation won’t be the only thing different about road trips. How many athletes and staff travel will also be taken into consideration.
“Our travel parties will be much smaller than we traditionally would see in all of our sports,” Whitman said. “Football, for example, we’ll be taking a very careful look at the plane manifest and the people who ordinarily would be on those trips, I think, will be reduced fairly substantially. It will be an ongoing effort, but I think through thoughtful scheduling and through some foresight and planning on our part that we should be able to get to a place where we feel really good about taking our teams on the road.”
The still planned for competitive fall season will also mean a change in Illinois’ COVID-19 testing. All student-athletes were tested upon their return to campus last month, quarantined for 72 hours and tested again. They’ve been tested weekly since.
Expect testing to ramp up even further this fall.
“Once we get into the competitive season, I think it’s possible — or even likely — that for many of our sports testing could increase to twice a week,” Whitman said. “We could see a test in advance of a competition and a test post competition depending on the nature of the sport and the schedule.”
Scott Richey is a reporter covering college basketball at The News-Gazette. His email is firstname.lastname@example.org, and you can follow him on Twitter (@srrichey).