When IU postponed the 2021 Little 500 for a month to May 26, the IU Student Foundation lauded the decision as a chance to continue tradition while keeping students safe.
But riders say they feel like the change in date only punishes them.
Junior Andrew Murray, a rider for Phi Delta Theta, said moving the date of the race penalizes students who have been taking responsibility by removing themselves from atmospheres where they could get COVID-19.
“The only ones that really get hurt are the riders who for the last two, maybe three years have just been working toward something that hasn’t even really occurred in their time here at IU,” Murray said.
This year’s Little 500 won’t have qualifiers, and any team that registers to race will be eligible to run come May. The IU Student Foundation is still determining how many teams will race and is working to decide how the teams will line up.
Murray became involved with Little 500 his freshman year. He said he would hear the riders practicing in the Phi Delta Theta house basement and eventually became curious enough that he asked to join.
He was slated to race in 2020 before the COVID-19 pandemic shut the race down. Now Murray is a junior and has been biking for two and a half years. This year’s Little 500 will be Murray’s first because of last year’s cancellation.
Riders like Murray are now faced with a Little 500 where family members and fans can’t attend in a year where they have already made sacrifices in order to have a race, while others are forced to find new housing until the end of May or drop out of the race.
Murray said while he understood that the university was trying to mitigate risk, he thinks there will still be parties happening in April when the race normally would have occurred.
The Riders Council is the liaison set up to link the riders and the university, and the council’s members share riders’ opinions during weekly meetings with race director Andrea Balzano.
But according to IUSF’s Little 500 website, the council was not involved in the decision making process. Several Riders Council members declined to comment.
“The decision about changing the date of the 2021 Little 500 races was a coordinated effort between IUSF, the IU Foundation, IU’s administration, the IU Medical Response Team, and the Monroe County Health Department,” Balzano said in an email. “We will continue to work with these groups to develop protocols that will allow us to host this time honored tradition this year.”
The email also states the parameters in place are in line with IU’s commencement protocol, limiting the event to riders and essential staff and volunteers.
Junior Pablo Fierst Garcia, a member of the Riders Council and a rider for Sigma Phi Epsilon, said he was frustrated when the change was announced, but knew he had to roll with it.
“When everyone found out about the pushback of the race, it kind of felt like everyone was pretty deflated and defeated and didn’t really know what to do next,” Fierst Garcia said.
Murray’s other biggest frustration stems from fans not being allowed to attend the race.
“None of us are here on scholarship,” Murray said. “It's our parents that often are the ones paying for school or helping out with biking expenses because it's an expensive sport to begin with. The fact that they can’t come, I find equally frustrating.”
Murray said he knew changing the date back to April was never a logical option once IU’s higher ups made the decision. Instead, he said he wishes each rider was given four tickets for family members.
Little 500 is held in Bill Armstrong Stadium, which has a capacity of 6,500 every year.
Assembly Hall opened to 500 spectators for March Madness, largely family members and volunteers.
“You’re saying that in May, when properly social distanced, there can’t be family members there? That doesn’t make much sense to me,” Murray said.
The May race date also means some teams won’t be able to race. Dorms and Greek housing will be closed, forcing riders living on campus to find a place to stay until the race.
Murray said riders on his team live in the Phi Delta Theta house, but other members of the team live off campus and are able to provide them somewhere to stay in May.
Other riders, like Fierst Garcia, will have to work around internships. Since the race is occurring during the day on a Wednesday, Fierst Garcia said he will have to request the day off from his remote internship.
Fierst Garcia said the unique plan for this year’s Little 500 makes it hard to grasp how race will look, but riders are determined to make the most of their chance to take the track.
“From what I’ve gathered from everyone it’s not like optimism, but responsibility to race, carry on the legacy of the race,” Fierst Garcia said. “I don’t think people are too bummed out, I think they feel a responsibility to show up and do the work to continue the tradition.”
Despite claiming to run the races in a way that celebrates the riders’ effort, the event will be run on an empty campus a month after the end of the year.
“It's hard to celebrate us when no one’s on campus,” Murray said. “Like this is happening in the dark, almost like a shady deal.”