It started on March 9, long before sports were shut down all over the world. At the University Athletic Association, the group got together to discuss the ramifications of a sinking market and how to handle UAA personnel if the COVID-19 scare turned into a pandemic.
“We had the business continuity group for a long time,” said Chip Howard, the UAA executive associate athletic director who chaired the group. “A pandemic was one of those things but it was very low on the list.
“Then that all started to change in March. Then, it was, ‘If this happens, what do we do?”
That group morphed into a group of UAA employees tasked with getting the student-athletes back on campus and on Friday the SEC presidents voted to bring them back on June 8.
They are voluntary workouts and will start with the football players being brought back for physicals and testing starting May 26, then soccer and volleyball being phased in. In July, the hope is that all of the student-athletes will be able to return for conditioning.
The SEC presidents on Friday debated the dates with Florida among the schools that felt it was ready for a June 1 opening. Some schools wanted to wait until June 15, according to SI.com.
They settled in the middle.
Florida’s coaches and other staff members received emails earlier this week that testing for them will begin Tuesday.
All of the coaches and players will be issued masks as social distancing rules still apply.
The SEC also issued these guidelines for the return of student-athletes and coaches to campus:
* Enhanced education of all team members on health and wellness best practices, including but not limited to preventing the spread of COVID-19.
* A 3-stage screening process that involves screening before student-athletes arrive on campus, within 72 hours of entering athletics facilities and on a daily basis upon resumption of athletics activities.
* Testing of symptomatic team members (including all student-athletes, coaches, team support and other appropriate individuals).
*Immediate isolation of team members who are under investigation or diagnosed with COVID-19 followed by contact tracing, following CDC and local public health guidelines.
* A transition period that allows student-athletes to gradually adapt to full training and sport activity following a period of inactivity.
The SEC became the first conference to end its ban on all sports related activities that had been extended through May 31.
On Wednesday, the NCAA Council cleared the way for conferences to make their decisions on when to welcome the students back. Practices will still be prohibited.
“Our student athlete wellness group has been working for some time with UF Health officials on a plan to integrate our student athletes back on campus,” UF athletic director Scott Stricklin said in a release. “They have developed a gradual phasing program, so that we don’t have an influx of a large number of student athletes returning at once.
“Our student athletes will be screened and tested through a partnership program with UF Health and our staff has worked with a number of experts to promote a safer environment for the return of our Gator student athletes.”
STUDENT-ATHLETE RETURN TO CAMPUS FAQs
Q: When will student-athletes be allowed back to campus?
A: The UAA has worked with state, campus and UF Health officials to create a plan for student-athletes to gradually return to campus. Student-athletes will be brought back in phases – see Appendix A for complete list of dates.
Q: Will student-athletes be screened before coming back to campus?
A: All student-athletes will be tested for COVID-19 as part of the physical exam process. Student-athletes will undergo a screening process prior to each time they enter the weight room and/or the Athletic Training facilities.
Q: What PPE will be required and provided for student-athletes?
A: Masks will be provided for all medical appointments. Student-athletes should follow CDC guidelines and wear masks or cloth face coverings while inside facilities. Masks are not recommended during workouts.
Q: What measures have been taken and will be taken to sanitize student-athlete shared spaces?
A: Wall-mounted hand sanitizer dispensers and refills will be installed/located at the entrance of every building and every department. Cleaning regimens have been established for each type of space.
Q: What will be the protocol if student-athletes do not follow recommended guidelines for safety and wellness?
A: Student-athletes will be educated on all recommended best practices as it relates to physical distancing, masks and handwashing. Student-athletes will be reminded of all these practices to keep themselves, their teammates and their coaches as safe as possible. Not following guidelines may result in loss of access to UAA facilities.
Q: What if student-athletes don’t feel safe coming back to campus?
A: The UAA understands student-athletes may have hesitations and anxiety about returning to campus and these concerns should be communicated to a member of the Athletic Training staff. In addition, student-athletes continue to have access to four licensed mental health counselors should they have mental health concerns or anxiety. Their contact information is listed in the attached pamphlet.
Q: Will shared student-athlete space protocols be established for those who return to campus?
A: The UAA is following state, campus and UF Health guidance on shared/common spaces. Occupancy will be limited in those shared spaces and all student-athletes need an appointment for both medical and strength training sessions.
Q: Will student-athletes’ travel be restricted? (If an SA comes back to campus, are they allowed to go back home, then return back to campus?)
A: We advise against student-athletes leaving campus once they have arrived, but if you do, you must inform your athletic trainer prior to departure and immediately upon return.
Q: Are the UAA staff and coaching staffs being screened and tested?
A: All UAA staff and coaches will be screened before returning to work and COVID-19 testing is available for them as well.
Q: If a student-athlete is coming from a state deemed a hotspot, will they have to quarantine when coming back to campus?
A: In accordance with the Florida state government, student-athletes coming to Florida from the states deemed as hotspots will have to quarantine for 14 days. Visit https://www.visitflorida.com/en-us/current-travel-safety-information.html for more information.
Q: What happens if a student-athlete tests positive for COVID-19?
A: If a student-athlete is living in an apartment, they can self-isolate there. The medical staff will continue to monitor them and provide any support they may need. In addition, food will be delivered to them so they can remain isolated. Any close contacts will be evaluated by the medical staff.
If a student-athlete is living in the dorms, the Hawkins Center will work with campus. The medical staff will continue to monitor them and provide any support they may need. In addition, food will be delivered to them so that they can remain isolated. Any close contacts will be evaluated by the medical staff.
Q: When can student-athletes return to their respective team facilities and voluntarily participate in sport-related workouts? (i.e., basketball – shooting, football – throwing, etc.)
A: The UAA is following state, campus and UF Health guidance to determine when student-athletes will be allowed back into their respective team facilities.
Q: How will international student-athletes be affected by this plan?
A: International student-athletes can return to campus when their team is cleared to come, travel restrictions have been lifted and there has been a confirmation on delivery of fall classes. Federal guidelines at this time have not changed; international students may enroll in 3 credit hours of online courses and 9 hours of traditional on-campus courses.
Q: Will student-athletes be able to still get food or snacks in the Hawkins Center or team locker rooms?
A: Prepackaged shakes and snacks will be available post-workout.
Q: What if dorms are not available and student-athletes have to come back before they are? Or what if their leases are not ready?
A: Residence Halls will be available when student-athletes return to campus. The Athletic Department is working on options in case your lease is not ready.