NCAA Sports

NCAA releases plan for the eventual return of college sports

The NCAA has been in the news a lot of late — some good, some not so much — but now the focus at least temporarily shifts to sports.  And the return of student-athletes to competition.

Friday, the NCAA released a document entitled “Core Principles of Resocialization of Collegiate Sport.” The NCAA had previously assembled the COVID-19 Advisory Panel.  That panel, which consists of leading medical, public health and epidemiology experts, has put together its nine core principles that will help guide the NCAA toward the eventual resumption of collegiate athletics.

  1. There must not be directives at the national level that preclude resocialization.
  2. State and local authorities must have in place a plan for resocialization.
  3. There should be a plan in place at the university/college level for resocialization of students.
  4. There must be a plan in place at the university/college level for resocialization of student-athletes within athletics.
  5. There must be adequate personal protective equipment for athletics health care providers, and there must be sanitizers to manage infection control in all shared athletics space.
  6. There must be the ability to assess immunity to COVID-19 at a regional and local level. This could include immunity at the college campus, plus a more focused assessment of herd immunity for athletics teams.
  7. There must be access to reliable, rapid diagnostic testing on any individual who is suspected of having COVID-19 symptoms.
  8. There must be in place a local surveillance system so that newly identified cases can be identified promptly and isolated, and their close contacts must be managed appropriately.
  9. There must be clearly identified and transparent risk analyses in place. Such risk analyses consider issues such as economics, education, restoration of society, and medical risk of sport participation, including COVID-19 infection and possible death.

As is the case with states across the nation, the NCAA will roll out the eventual return of collegiate athletics in phases.  In this case, there are three phases.  Those phases are:

Phase One:

In accordance with the federal guidelines, resocialization of sport for Phase One assumes the following:

  • Gating criteria have been satisfied for a minimum of 14 days.
  • Vulnerable student-athletes, athletics health care providers, coaches and athletics personnel should continue to shelter in place. Vulnerable populations include individuals with serious underlying health conditions such as high blood pressure, chronic lung disease, diabetes, obesity and asthma, and those whose immune system is compromised, such as by chemotherapy.
  • Those living in dorms and other residences where vulnerable individuals reside should be aware that by returning to work or other environments where distancing is not practical, they could carry the virus back home, and appropriate isolating precautions should be taken.
  • Physical distancing should continue.
  • Gatherings of more than 10 people should be avoided unless precautionary measures of physical distancing and sanitization are in place.
  • Gyms and common areas where student-athletes and staff are likely to congregate and interact, should remain closed unless strict distancing and sanitation protocols can be implemented.
  • Virtual meetings should be encouraged whenever possible and feasible.
  • Nonessential travel should be minimized, and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines regarding isolation after travel should be implemented.

Phase Two:

In accordance with the federal guidelines, if Phase One has been implemented successfully, with no evidence of a rebound, and gating criteria have been satisfied for a minimum of 14 days since the implementation of Phase One:

  • Vulnerable individuals should continue to shelter in place.
  • Awareness and proper isolating practices related to vulnerable individuals in residences should continue.
  • Physical distancing should continue.
  • Gatherings of more than 50 people should be avoided unless precautionary measures of physical distancing and sanitization are in place.
  • Gyms and common areas where student-athletes and staff are likely to congregate and interact should remain closed, or appropriate distancing and sanitation protocols should be implemented.
  • Virtual meetings should continue to be encouraged whenever possible and feasible.
  • Nonessential travel may resume.

Phase Three:

In accordance with the federal guidelines, if Phase Two has been implemented successfully, with no evidence of a rebound, and gating criteria have been satisfied for a minimum of 14 days since the implementation of Phase Two:

  • Vulnerable student-athletes, athletics health care providers, coaches and athletics personnel can resume in-person interactions, but should practice physical distancing, minimizing exposure to settings where such distancing is not practical.
  • Gyms and common areas where student-athletes and staff are likely to congregate and interact can reopen if appropriate sanitation protocols are implemented, but even low-risk populations should consider minimizing time spent in crowded environments.
  • Unrestricted staffing may resume.

“It is also important to take into consideration that there will not be a quick, single day of re-emergence into society,” Brian Hainline, the leader of the NCAA COVID-19 Advisory Panel, said in a statement. “We will re-emerge in a manner that recognizes COVID-19 will be around until there is an effective vaccine, treatment or both. That is why resocialization should be rolled out in a phased way that helps assure sustained low infection spread, as well as aids in the ability to quickly diagnose and isolate new cases.”

At bare minimum, we are at least a month and a half away from anything close to resembling normalcy when it comes to collegiate athletics.  That would put us in the middle of June. Beyond the timeframe set by Iowa’s president to resume football practice.

Even with these guidelines, we are still in the great state of the unknown.  There are simply too many variables, starting with the various states in this country in varying degrees of lifting or easing stay-at-home orders.  There does, though, seem to be the very real possibility that some conferences, such as the SEC, could start their seasons close to as scheduled, while others, most notably the Pac-12, won’t be ready come early September.

In fact, that conference’s commissioner alluded to just that on Thursday.  With our emphasis added.

“The hope is we all move along together,” Greg Sankey stated in a radio interview. “To date that’s been the conversation and collective thinking about how we may have to adjust. But it’s a very different situation from a pro league.

There is room for different conferences to make different decisions. But we’re all interconnected. When we’re playing basketball tournaments there is no connection. We’re all in our arenas playing each other.

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