The NCAA says college football players and other athletes in high-contact sports should be tested for the coronavirus at least 72 hours before a game, players with high-risk exposures to the virus should be quarantined for 14 days and everybody on the sidelines should wear a mask.
The nation’s largest governing body for college sports Thursday released its latest guidance to help member schools navigate competition during the pandemic, and they come as the prospects of actually playing look grim. Around the country, the number of cases of COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus, are on the rise and many states have slowed re-openings or reinstated restrictions on businesses.
“This document lays out the advice of health care professionals as to how to resume college sports if we can achieve an environment where COVID-19 rates are manageable,” NCAA president Mark Emmert said in a statement. “If there is to be college sports in the fall, we need to get a much better handle on the pandemic.”
Earlier in the day, the American Athletic Conference, of which USF and UCF are members, announced it would require all its schools to test football players for the virus at least 72 hours before competition, and the Power Five conferences — the ACC, SEC, Big Ten, Big 12 and Pac-12 — are expected to require the same from their schools.
The NCAA’s recommendations lay out broader protocols, most of which are expected to be mandated by the Power Five.
Among the highlights:
• Test results should be obtained within 72 hours of competition for athletes competing in so-called high-contact-risk sports, such as football, basketball, hockey and lacrosse.
• Face shields should be integrated into sports where feasible.
• Masks should be worn by everyone on a sideline, including when an athlete moves from the playing field to interact with a coach.
• Guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention should be used for determining when individuals can resume activities after testing positive for the virus.
• All individuals with high-risk exposure must be quarantined for 14 days.
The final point could be crucial for managing a team. Simply being deemed a close contact of someone who tests positive could sideline players for two weeks.
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The ACC, SEC, Big Ten, Big 12 and Pac-12 have been working together on a minimum standard for testing in their leagues that could be used throughout major college football.
The Big Ten and Pac-12 announced last week that they would play only conference games in football and other sports in the fall to help minimize potential disruptions caused by the virus.
The Big East joined those leagues Thursday by going conference-only for the fall seasons, which for the basketball-focused league includes men’s and women’s soccer, men’s and women’s cross country, volleyball and field hockey.
Other Division I-A conferences have not decided on scheduling formats for the football season, which appears to be in peril because of the surging pandemic.
AAC commissioner Mike Aresco said his conference’s testing protocols will apply throughout the regular and bowl seasons. More operational protocols are being finalized, as are testing protocols for other sports.
“We are committed to meeting or exceeding all guidelines and standards recommended by the NCAA and its member institutions in all fall sports, including football,” Aresco said.
Meanwhile, the Mid-Eastern Atlantic Conference became the third Division I conference to say it will not have a fall sports season. The MEAC — made up of 11 historically black colleges and universities, including Florida A&M and Bethune-Cookman —joined fellow Division I-AA conferences the Ivy League and Patriot League in punting on football and other fall sports, with the hopes of making them up in the spring semester, if possible.
“Obviously this is an arduous decision because everyone wants to have a fall season for student-athletes, fans and others,” MEAC commissioner Dennis Thomas said.
— By RALPH D. RUSSO
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