March 11, 2020 — a date that doesn’t feel too long ago and will be a day that Kansas State basketball fans will remember forever. The men’s basketball team defeated TCU to move on in the Big 12 Championship tournament.
The conference then announced the rest of the tournament would be played without fans in attendance. What seemed like a minor delay turned into months of uncertainty and anticipation for the return of sports.
Not only did the COVID-19 pandemic bar fans from entering and watching games live, but it has also changed the way sports media can operate.
Director of Video Services for K-State Athletics Andy Liebsch was at the T-Mobile Center, formally known as the Sprint Center, on the day of the cancelation of the tournament.
“I was getting ready to go, and then there was a press conference, and everyone starts running, and you figure out pretty quickly what was happening,” Liebsch said.
K-State baseball was also shut down around that time, and Liebsch had to take down all of the equipment at Tointon Family Stadium.
“It was eerie just getting all that stuff and taking it all down so soon,” Liebsch said. “It was just kind of empty at that point when normally it should be bustling and ready for stuff and coaches and players around.”
Business marketing senior Johnny Douglas works as a videographer for K-State volleyball and track and field. Douglas was in New Mexico with the K-State indoor track and field team at the time.
“In the middle of all the teams practicing on the second practice day before the tournament, first the ACC packed up and then left, and then the Big 10 went and then they said, ‘It’s not happening,'” Douglas said.
As recruiting shut down, Liebsch worked with coaches to face the challenge of keeping communication with recruits from a distance.
“We’ve got to be able to sell the campus a little bit more,” Liebsch said. “We had some of that stuff, but that’s the only thing we rely on, we had to get more of it — what can we do to continue to promote a little more outside of games because there are no games, we’ve got to promote something.”
As the athletics begin once again, new protocols have created new challenges for sports media, challenges that have now become the new normal.
Liebsch has worked to use areas around the stadium to help create some distance for his crew.
“Our space is always limited, so it’s always a challenge of how many people, how many positions and equipment can we cram in a small (space) as near as possible, so we’re taking less footprint and being able to get as much bang for our buck,” Liebsch said. “Certainly, that’s not a great situation right now. Social distancing is also going to be something that we’re trying to do as best as we can. There are certainly limits on what we can do.”
Liebsch said they are expanding the area where they can work by using elevator lobbies, a production truck and a site box to spread people out. In order to create some element of distance, Liebsch said they installed clear curtain liners in the truck.
A large portion of employees for K-State HD are students. The training that Liebsch had organize has been a challenge due to COVID-19.
“We get full in our rooms without anybody training, and we can’t really get by without training because you kind of got to do a lot of training during games,” Liebsch said. “We can do only do so much stuff outside of games.”
There are a lot of protocols not only to limit the interaction with the athletes but also to limit the exposure of fellow employees.
“A lot tighter access to be on the field, it’s a big worry that when we come in and we are getting ready to do a game and someone tests positive, and then we just took out 20 people of our crew, and we only have so many people that know how to run a certain position so that would make it hard for us to fill our crews,” Liebsch said.
When working in athletics, there is an added responsibility to keep everyone safe.
“We hold each other accountable pretty well,” Douglas said. “Just knowing not to be dumb and make sure to wipe down your station. We all love our jobs, we want to keep doing our jobs, and to do that we’ve got to keep sports going.”
Douglas said one of the biggest challenges is the limit on access to athletes.
“What we go for here is getting to know our athletes, getting to know them more and making them feel comfortable,” Douglas said. “We haven’t been able to get near the athletes much at all, and it has made our content harder to come by.”
The Big 12 decided to move forward with college athletics in this uncertain time, but as with anything in 2020, nothing is guaranteed. The most significant event for K-State, as of now, will be their only non-conference football game against Arkansas State on Sept. 12, when all of the preparations will be put to the test.