Bearcat Arena Illustration

Northwest Athletics announced Oct. 9 that it's surveying season ticket holders to gauge interests in fans attending basketball games at Bearcat Arena this winter. Northwest Director of Athletics Andy Peterson said the MIAA is trying to create one uniform decision on attendance, but Bearcat Arena is expected to operate at roughly 30% capacity this year.

The MIAA announced Oct. 1 that winter sports had the green light to move forward as regularly scheduled, with official practices starting Oct. 15 and games for men’s and women’s basketball starting Nov. 18-19. 

Northwest Director of Athletics Andy Peterson has faced an abundance of decisions to make regarding Northwest sports for the 2020-21 school year. After the MIAA’s announcement, Peterson is trying to figure out who, if anyone, will get to watch games in Bearcat Arena this winter.

“I guess it made it sound like we were gonna let season ticket holders in over anyone else, which is just not the case,” Peterson said about a Northwest Athletics press release. “We’re gonna take care of our student-athletes and their families first, and then a couple of other groups. … So, it’s really just — right now, it’s coming up with the capacity. What’s our number? How do we get there? And what’s the safest way to get there without splitting hairs and busting up different infinity groups by location or price point or whatever that might be? We don’t really wanna get to that point.”

Peterson’s confusion stems from comments on the Northwest Athletics Facebook page, specifically on the post that announced the University was surveying season ticket holders to gauge interest in possibly attending games this year.

Those comments suggested that only season ticket holders would be able to attend. However, Peterson said, that’s not the case. 

It isn’t a decision that he’ll make alone. Instead, it’s one that he’ll couple with 13 other athletic directors to make, and then some. 

“We do feel like we need to be as similar as possible across the 14 institutions when it comes to letting visitor fans, not letting visitor fans in — band, cheer, dance team, masks, no masks, all that stuff,” Peterson said about the MIAA coming together to make a uniform choice. “I mean, you’ve got 14 different counties. Most of the time, the county health departments are the ones that are managing the coronavirus mitigation strategies and whatnot. You’ve got four different states with four different governors.”

The exact number of fans allowed in each venue could vary, Peterson said. It isn’t something that could be exactly uniform across the league due to the simple fact that each institution’s circumstances could differ. The way that Central Missouri in Warrensburg, Missouri, handles its fans isn’t going to be the same as Newman in Wichita, Kansas. 

Even then, the way that Northwest handles fans in Maryville could vastly differ from the manner in which Missouri Western handles fans 45 minutes down the road.

“If we socially distance, the formula is about 28 or 29% capacity, is about how many people you could have in,” Peterson said. “We’re working off of that number and just trying to figure out how many butts in seats that actually is. I know for a fact that two of our sister institutions that have said through January 1st, no fans at all. … It’s a challenge, but it’s something we’ll just have to keep working through.”

The Northwest Athletics website says the capacity for Bearcat Arena sits at 2,500 people. If that’s the case, the 29% Peterson mentioned would allow roughly 725 spectators to attend games. 

The Bearcats’ home debut is marked for Dec. 2 against Central Missouri, which gives Peterson more than a month to figure out who will or won’t be in attendance. For now, he’s trying to figure out if fans will even have to worry about having something to watch.

“The biggest intricacy is if we’re gonna have games or not; that’s the hardest one,” Peterson said. “When it comes down to testing and contact tracing, men’s and women’s basketball are contact sports, so it’s hard to separate if you have one positive test. … In my opinion, it’s not even the number of fans that we can get in yet; it’s still trying to figure out if there’s gonna be a season.”

The Bearcats are scheduled to start their season Nov. 19 against Northeastern State in Tahlequah, Oklahoma. Two weeks after that, Peterson is hopeful that Bearcat Arena will have fans to welcome the men’s and women’s teams to the court.

“I think we’ll have fans of some sort. I feel really comfortable — I say that now, it’s only October 13th — I feel really comfortable about getting our players and staff, the people that’d usually be on their pass list, really comfortable about getting that pass list in,” Peterson said. “It’s gonna be a little less than 200 people, I think, so we can do that pretty safely and easily. … I think we’re getting close to a solution on that, but I think at some level we’ll have fans at this point. Obviously, all of that could change based on what’s going on.”

Contrary to the beliefs of some, Peterson said people do want, and are working to get athletes back in action as soon as possible.

“Everybody wants sports,” Peterson said. “Everybody wants to see sports happen, we just gotta do our best to make sure it happens safely.”

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