After a few months without fans, spectators are welcomed back at limited capacity for the upcoming basketball games in the Azusa Pacific University Felix Event Center.

Change and adjustment: the men’s and women’s basketball teams have become very familiar with these two words. 

During a season filled with postponed games and constant spectator guideline changes, they have pushed through—both currently sit atop PacWest standings. 

On Feb. 10, Azusa Pacific publicly announced that they are welcoming students, parents, staff, and fans back to the Felix Event Center at a limited capacity of 500 and must be fully masked. 

These guidelines were first enforced back in August for both volleyball and basketball games. However, in December, when Omicron was peaking in Southern California, the guidelines were amended by the APU Return to Campus Committee.

The Return to Campus Committee (ROC) is a group of about a dozen people across the campus who have been working together for the last two years on the school’s response to the everchanging Los Angeles County COVID protocols. 

The ROC connected with the Athletics Department and decided on having no fans for the home basketball game against Point Loma Nazarene University. The game on Jan. 12 would have been right after students returned from winter break. However, the visiting team had an outbreak and the game was canceled altogether. 

Following the cancellation, Azusa Pacific Athletic Director Gary Pine said the University made the decision to approach other games later in January and survey the COVID numbers as the month went on. 

Daily confirmed cases rose to 20,000 across Los Angeles County in December 2021.

Pine didn’t want the ROC to pull spectators because the teams had four home games in a row before they headed off to Hawaii this past week. 

He said of the four-game homestand, they were able to let families in at least for the last two games of the stretch. 

Then, last week, the campus finally changed some guidelines such as in person chapel and return of spectators at athletic events.

“One thing I’m so anxious about is getting students back into activities on campus. We desperately need that for students to be able to socialize outside of the classroom. It’s so important,” Pine says. “We know there’s more to the college experience than schoolwork and classes that can be learned through social interaction. And not having spectators at sports hurts our process of that.”  

Dec. 20 was the last “normal” home game with fans right before the Omicron variant started to break out. 

Alex Lowden, Junior Guard on the women’s Basketball team, said “[not having spectators] has definitely made us focus more inward at our own energy. We can’t rely on people in the stands to cheer us on; we have to do it ourselves. We really try to be encouraging and to make sure our bench is very loud in order to give us the energy to carry us through the game.” 

Pine adds how excited he is for not only fans to return for the upcoming home game on Friday, Feb. 11,  but also the cheer and dance teams will be back performing on the court. 

“I think the team has been extremely successful with and without fans. But let’s be frank, one of the purposes of athletics at APU and every college or university is to bring people together,” said Pine.

He continued, “I’ve said this for a long time, at Christian universities, nothing brings students together as much as chapel followed directly by sporting events. They are just two different expressions of ‘togetherness.’” 

Pine points out that the basketball teams will be playing more games in February than some NBA teams while they are managing classes, traveling in vans, etc. 

“We’re asking a lot of our student athletes and I think that’s why the teams will be ecstatic to have not just their families but also their friends, roommates, classmates back to support them,” Pine said

Pine described the culture of Zu Crew, the Azusa Pacific Student Section, as added value for the players in the game, the people participating in Zu Crew, and for those simply watching.

“It’s a great bonding factor for the students,” Pine said. “It’s where strangers can come together and bond over their pride and loyalty for the school and leave as friends.”

Lowden said she appreciates their funny and witty comments and how they always have quick and random comebacks during the action of a game. She also appreciates their encouragement throughout the season. 

Pine added, “It creates pride over so many years. For that moment, it feels like life is dependent on the outcome of the game. It seems so important at the moment for everyone, the fans and the players.” 

Lowden pointed out that since the remainder of their games are all local she is looking forward to not having to travel far and finishing the rest of the conference season strong getting ready for the PacWest Tournament. 

The women’s team is currently looking at a No. 1 seed in the PacWest tournament and are also ranked No. 3 in the nation. They are sitting at a 20-3 overall record along with a near-perfect 16-2 record in conference going into the last stretch of conference play. 

The men’s team is also atop the Conference standings with a 17-7 overall record and a 14-3 Conference record.

There are six more home sporting events coming up. 3 more home games for both the men’s and women’s Basketball teams and 3 Acrobatics and Tumbling home meets. All events will adhere to the current spectator guidelines. 

Outdoor events will still remain open to the public and masks are encouraged but not required. 

The current guidelines for spectators can be found here.