It has been a longer offseason than usual for the Purdue University Boilermakers’ men and women’s track and field and cross country teams which are under the guidance of Head Coach Norbert Elliott. The Bahamian collegiate head coach said he and his staff have begun training as this season poses a “new normal” in preparation for competition during the COVID-19 pandemic. The cross country season is scheduled to take place during the spring semester, and Elliott remains optimistic that the indoor and outdoor seasons will be held as well.
Elliott was named as the Boilermakers’ head coach back in 2018 after serving as an assistant coach under Bahamian Rolando “Lonnie” Greene, from 2015. He is now in his ninth year at Purdue, which is located in West Lafayette, Indiana. This is the third week that the Boilermakers have returned to training, and there have been some changes. Elliott said it has been nerve-racking, but the entire team has adjusted.
“We have to train in smaller groups now – we call them pods. They do not have access to a lot of things. The locker rooms are now pretty much off limit. They basically can go in there for 10 minutes to shower and then they have to leave. Our training room is by appointment only. The water station used to have cups and coolers out there. They are very limited, and you have to bring your own water bottles and have to sanitize,” Elliott said.
The training pods consist of five to 10 athletes training together. Elliott said he always preferred training in smaller groups because he and his staff are able to give more attention to a particular athlete, unlike in the bigger groups where he may have to spread himself thin. Elliott’s wife, Angela, trains the short sprints for both men and women. The women train before the men, which also applies to the throws, jumps and long distance runners’ group. He said it has been working for him and his staff.
Elliott said: “Every morning you wake up, you take your temperature and you have to fill out a survey. If the survey is not filled out, you cannot come to practice. Every single week, every single student-athlete at Purdue is given a COVID-19 nostril test. That is one of the biggest things they are doing to try and keep the numbers down to mitigate the spread of the coronavirus. The cafeteria is basically a to-go meal setting; you cannot sit down. They are trying to limit the congregation that student-athletes do.”
Staff members are also tested every week for COVID-19, said Elliott. The athletic office is for staff only. Athletes are not allowed to go to their coaches and have discussions in-person outside of practice.
The Boilermakers compete in the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Division I. They are in the competitive Big Ten Conference. There is no word on the status of the men and women’s indoor track and field season, but Elliott said he is preparing his team regardless.
“We are preparing as though we are going to have an indoor season. Whether we are going to have a season or not is dependent on COVID-19. If the numbers are high, it is less likely that we will have an indoor season. We have to make sure that we do all we can to keep the numbers low. We cannot wait until the season is here to decide to train. We are training and preparing for the indoor season as usual,” Elliott said.
Back in August, the Big Ten Conference decided to postpone all fall sports, but last week they decided to go ahead with the football season beginning on October 24. One of those sports that is affected is cross country running. That will cause an overlap with the indoor season as teams may have to decide which one to focus on.
“The most frustrating thing is for the non-revenue college sports,” Elliott said. “As you have seen in the newspaper, several schools have dropped certain athletic programs. Typically, they look at the non-revenue sports and unfortunately, one of the ones they always look at is men’s track and field. They will come up with various excuses for it. It is something to be cautious and concerned about.”
There was not an outdoor track and field season last season in the NCAA. The NCAA was about to start the NCAA D-1 Indoor Track and Field Championships in mid-March when they were forced to cancel that meet due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
With certain health protocols in place, student-athletes at Purdue and other schools can train, looking to show off their craft on the track and in the field.