The NCAA released COVID-19 testing guidance for the upcoming season Thursday, continuing to paint an ever-complicated picture of what it will take to have sports this fall.
If there are sports at all.
As part of guidelines, the NCAA recommends athletes who test positive for COVID-19 sit out from competition for at least 10 days. Furthermore, anyone who has been in close contact with an individual who tests positive must quarantine for two weeks.
Power 5 programs, including Indiana, have been testing athletes as they return to campus for voluntary offseason workouts. The NCAA’s document provides further insight into how players and coaches should be monitored in-season, which could be exceptionally difficult for “high risk” contact sports such as football.
In those sports, athletes should be tested every week, within 72 hours of competition. Basketball, field hockey, ice hockey, lacrosse, rowing, rugby, soccer, squash, volleyball, water polo, and wrestling are also in that category.
Baseball, cross country, and softball are examples of “medium” risk sports. Swimming, diving, golf, tennis, and track and field are considered “low” risk sports. Those individuals do not need to be tested every week, according to the guidelines.
Testing isn’t a cheap proposition, either. According to IU, each test run through its student health center costs $100.
Along with athletes, the NCAA is also recommending that game officials be tested every week. There is also a recommendation for schools and conferences to consider “universal masking” for coaches and other personnel, as well as student-athletes wearing masks “when they move from the court/field to the sidelines for timeouts or between-period strategy discussions.”
In the case of a positive test, the NCAA laid out contact tracing protocols for isolating individuals who may have been in “close contact” with the infected person. According to CDC guidelines, close contact would be someone who was “within 6 feet of someone with COVID-19 for at least 15 minutes,” or had direct physical contact with the person, or if they were sneezed or coughed on by an infected individual.
Especially in a sport like football, a positive test could knock out a large chunk of a team for two weeks. Or possibly even entire teams.
“The difficulty is defining individuals with a high risk of exposure,” the NCAA’s document states, “and in some cases, this could mean an entire team (or teams).”
The NCAA’s guidelines also come with a plain warning that sports may not be possible in some areas of the country.
“At the time of this writing, the rate of spread of COVID-19 has been increasing in many regions of the country. Because of this increase, it is possible that sports, especially high contact risk sports, may not be practiced safely in some areas,” the guidelines state. “In conjunction with public health officials, schools should consider pausing or discontinuing athletics activities when local circumstances warrant such consideration.”
The NCAA listed factors that may make it necessary to shut down athletics, whether it be a lack of testing and surveillance capability, increasing positivity rates in a school’s locality, or local public health officials stating there is a lack of hospital infrastructure to accommodate a surge in hospitalizations related to COVID-19.
Along with the release of its guidelines, the NCAA also released a graph showing the trend line of new COVID-19 infections in the U.S. and elsewhere. The U.S. line far outpaces Europe, Canada, and Japan, climbing above 700 new cases per million residents.
Text on the graph points to the end of the U.S. trend line and reads “Where we are,” comparing it to a hypothetical trend line from April — which was tracking below 400 — and saying “Where we thought we’d be.”
“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. “Today, sadly, the data point in the wrong direction. If there is to be college sports in the fall, we need to get a much better handle on the pandemic.”