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NCAA releases plans allowing athletes to return to campuses next week for football, basketball

The NCAA logo is displayed at center court

The NCAA logo is displayed at center court as work continues at The Consol Energy Center in Pittsburgh for the NCAA Tournament on March 18, 2015. Credit: AP/Keith Srakocic

Though the country remains in the battle against the coronavirus pandemic, college athletes in football and basketball across the country will be returning to campuses as soon as next week.

The NCAA voted last week to lift a moratorium on athletic activities on campus and that will permit – where state and local health officials  allow – voluntary workouts and training at schools. The NCAA on Friday released a series of protocols to be used by schools as guidance for when they bring athletes back.

“This is an update with the most current information and it is extremely helpful,” Stony Brook athletic director Shawn Heilbron said. “This is a great roadmap for all of us and I expect the plan to get even more refined as [NCAA chief medical officer] Brian Hainline continues to issue updates as more information becomes available.”

The Resocialization of Collegiate Sports: Action Plan Considerations identifies that “student-athletes and athletics staff have traditionally interacted with closer contact than the broader campus population.” How that should be considered and how “it might be more difficult to manage any new infections and resulting potential for COVID-19 spread” in athletics than on the broader campus will be monitored.

The document also differentiates sports into ‘low contact risk’ (bowling, cross country, diving, golf, gymnastics, rifle, skiing, swimming and diving, tennis and track and field); ‘medium contact risk’ (baseball, softball); and ‘high contact risk’ (basketball, field hockey, football, ice hockey, lacrosse, rowing, soccer, volleyball, water polo, wrestling).

“Having that delineation is important for how we will progress as we come back,” Heilbron said.

It suggests that a college or university “carefully consider how it will monitor and respond to potential cases of COVID-19 within the athletics department.”

Among the considerations to address those are details about diagnostic, antibody and surveillance testing and contact tracing as well as potential protocols for immediate and long-term isolation.

Additionally it warns “if infection occurs after the commencement of team practice activities, this response plan could involve, among other things, temporarily or permanently ceasing in-person activities, or a diagnostic testing protocol that has been vetted by the institution and the local health authorities.”

Athletes to be paid? The commissioners of the Power Five conferences (ACC, Big Ten Big 12, pac-12 and SEC) have asked congressional leaders to pass legislation that sets parameters on how college athletes to be compensated for use of their names, images and likenesses. The NCAA has recommended that student-athletes may be receive money for those, but wouldn’t vote on any proposed rule until January. The commissioners hope a national NIL law will keep them from dealing with several state laws that have passed or are being considered.

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