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Indiana basketball fans return to Assembly Hall with COVID-19 mask mandate in place

Indiana fans cheer as the women's basketball team takes the floor Dec. 20, 2020, at Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall. Fans at Assembly Hall will be expected to wear masks as long as the county's mandate is in place.
Indiana fans cheer as the women's basketball team takes the floor Dec. 20, 2020, at Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall. Fans at Assembly Hall will be expected to wear masks as long as the county's mandate is in place.

When fans return to Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall for the 2021-22 men’s and women’s basketball seasons, many things will be back to normal in the arena for the first time in nearly two years. 

The pep band will play “William Tell Overture” during the under eight minute timeout in the second half. The Hoosiers will take the court in their candy-striped warm up pants and 17,222 cream-and-crimson-clad fans will scream at the top of their lungs for their Hoosiers. 

As fans make their long-awaited return to the building Indiana basketball has called home since 1970, crimson jerseys will not be the only apparel items of choice in Assembly Hall.

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However, the one difference for fans in attendance this season will be the sea of masks covering the faces that stare back at them in the arena, a new requirement for fans in the COVID-19 era.

Last month, the Monroe County Board of Commissioners extended the county’s mask mandate until the Indiana State Department of Health issues a blue advisory level and cases drop below 50 per 100,000 residents. Fans at Assembly Hall will be expected to follow the county’s mandate on indoor activities, Jeremy Gray, IU’s senior associate athletics director, wrote in an email. 

While masking will be new to basketball games, other indoor sports that have already started their season, such as volleyball, have already implemented the policy. Masks were also required at Hoosier Hysteria last month. Outdoor sports, such as soccer and football, have not required masks this season.

Masks will be required in Assembly Hall, but no social distancing rules are in place, meaning the stands will be packed again after 20 months of empty seats. The only difference compared to pre-COVID games will be face coverings. 

“I don’t think (it’s a problem),” sophomore David Fitzgerald said. “I’m pretty used to the masks indoors now at this point. It might be a little weird if you’re cheering, but I think it should be fine.

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While plenty of fans are unbothered by wearing a mask and are just excited to return to the arena, others are not looking forward to masking up in Assembly Hall, in part because they have not been required to wear a mask at other full capacity outdoor sporting events in the fall, such as football and soccer.

“It’s gonna be weird,” sophomore Charlie Hill said. “I assume a lot of fans are not gonna be following that rule. It’ll depend on how strictly the ushers are enforcing it.”

Even if masks being required in the stands make things feel different for fans, Hoosier fans are eager to see what the 2021-22 season holds for both teams. Indiana men’s basketball begins a new era under head coach Mike Woodson and Indiana women’s basketball looks to push for a national championship after reaching the Elite Eight a season ago.

“I’m ready to get back,” sophomore Ryan James said. “I think it’ll feel like old times.”

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