Even in a non-COVID-19 year, moving an entire football team to another city for a road game is a large endeavor to begin with. In 2020, athletic departments can add protocols to prevent the spread of the coronavirus to the travel concerns.
University of Wisconsin assistant athletic director for sports medicine Michael Moll said Thursday that organizing buses and flights will be a challenge even with the introduction of daily rapid testing for a team's entire travel party.
Speaking to the UW Athletic Board's Equity, Diversity and Student-Welfare Committee, Moll said the daily testing should give a team "a reasonable idea that everyone around us is negative that day."
What happens, however, if there's a positive test while the team is out of town? That could be "difficult to navigate," Moll said.
He said Big Ten schools are working on plans for visiting teams on their campus.
"There will be plans in place for meeting those needs," Moll said. "There are a number of challenges and that's definitely one of them."
In his committee appearance a day after the Big Ten reversed course and set an Oct. 23 start for football season, Moll addressed testing, the level of transmission of the coronavirus inside UW athletics environments and the process for an athlete returning to competition after a positive diagnosis.
Moll will serve as UW's Chief Infection Officer, a position required in the Big Ten's return to play medical protocol to be responsible for collection and reporting of testing data to the conference.
He said he pushed for the uniform testing plan for all 14 Big Ten schools that was included in the league's playing framework. The daily testing will start no later than Sept. 30.
Since June, UW has used Madison-based Exact Sciences Corp. to perform COVID-19 testing on athletes and staff members. Moll said it has allowed for quick access to results: He sometimes gets phone calls in the middle of the night when a positive test comes back.
Moll said UW's efforts to create safe training environments for voluntary summer workouts "were effective in reducing the risk for transmission within our athletic facilities."
"Largely over the summer, I don't believe, at least with our experience, we haven't seen a great deal of transmission take place in the athletic environments, or any for that matter that we can necessarily document," Moll said. "However, I think there's still a large unknown and very little data out there about what transmission within athletics is, largely because we haven't gone that far to figure it out. The large amount of transmission that we have seen has been in living situations, in situations outside of athletics."
Badgers athletic director Barry Alvarez said Wednesday that the department hasn't had a discussion about housing athletes in bubbles separate from other UW students as the number of COVID-19 cases rises.
"We have constant discussions with our athletes about responsibility," he said. "We've tried to take it a step further and ask them to be leaders on this campus and in the community, where they can send a safe message and help improve our situation here in Madison and particularly on campus."
After a spike in cases among UW-Madison students following the start of the fall semester, the seven-day average of the percentage of positive tests on campus has fallen from a high of 10.2% on Sunday to 8.3% on Wednesday.
On Sept. 10, the athletic department reported that 83 athletes had tested positive since the start of voluntary workouts in June. Public Health Madison and Dane County said Wednesday that 42 football players and staff members had been infected.
Moll told the committee that the "vast majority" of Badgers athletes who have tested positive for COVID-19 have either no symptoms or a minimal amount.
"There's not a lot of significant symptoms with our student-athletes currently, which is good," he said. "However, that's certainly not the experience everywhere. And we have had some student-athletes that have some prolonged issues coming back to return to activity. So it's definitely not a standard. It's a very individualized process."
The process that Moll described for addressing COVID-19 diagnoses with Badgers athletes has similarities to what the Big Ten announced Wednesday as its football protocol.
UW's plan once an athlete tests positive has been to order a 10-day isolation period. Near the end of that, or before if symptoms dictate it, the player meets with a physician and undergoes cardiac testing and lab work.
Once cleared after testing, the athlete progresses through a gradual increase in activity.
The Big Ten will require a minimum 21-day absence with a positive test.
"I think in some respects that's a very reasonable timeline," Moll said. "There will be some athletes that potentially will be ready to go before that and will be wanting to do more before that. There will be some that that is a very appropriate timeline. And there will be others that may take longer to get back than that 21-day time frame."
Moll said UW athletes have signed a release to allow positive results to be shared with health care providers, administrators and coaches and be given to Dane County's tracking effort.
In a football environment, however, publicity for positive results has become a sore subject for some. Oklahoma stopped sharing test results publicly once it started its season, with coach Lincoln Riley calling it a potential "competitive disadvantage."
Moll said he wasn't sure yet what kind of report would come from UW football on which players are and aren't available to participate.
Despite use of personal protective equipment, masks and face shields, Moll said UW's front-line health staff members have had some reservations.
"All of our staff members, whether they're our health care professionals that work in athletics or they're our other staff members that work within athletics, I think there's some apprehension about coming back and being in a scenario where we can't physically distance while we're doing our jobs, while we're delivering care," he said.
Badgers fans weigh in on return of Big Ten football in October
There's still time
Sure, they can. Not sure if they will change their minds, but the only thing that would make them ineligible is if they signed with an agent or something like that.— Jim Polzin (@JimPolzinWSJ) September 16, 2020
This is a terrible idea that's putting hundreds if not thousands of students, coaches, trainers, and assistants at risk. How can they justify it when cases are spiking in nearly every B1G college town?— Abbey Lee (@aqtbenz) September 16, 2020
Still work to do
That's my birthday, that first game. They need me in the stands because they've never lost when I've attended a game on my birthday. Take Ohio State, for instance. Opening Kickoff return game. Once have my field pass, I'll tell you what I think of the resumption of UW football.— chris van wagner (@CVWhoops) September 16, 2020
Put to the test
Glad our team gets a chance to compete. Medical details seem well thought out. I’d rather have them monitored daily than not playing, get COVID and don’t know it and have issues next year from an undiagnosed heart condition.— Susan Balsai (@sesbadger) September 16, 2020
Happy for the players and coaches who want to play. Very concerned that this is going to blow up. UW is quarantining dorms. Not sure how this will be any different.— Zach Kirchenwitz (@zkirchenwitz) September 16, 2020
Facing long odds
I hope all possibilities have been considered and precaution is on high alert. The odds of this to successfully run start to finish is long and players health and safety should be priority #1!— Bob Look (@BobLook) September 16, 2020
Follow their lead
It seems like the rest of the sports world is managing their way through things, it’s not perfect, but if HS and Pro’s are doing it, so can college football.— Jack Pine Express (@kwzanella) September 16, 2020
We have a long way to go before football is played in the B10. Only takes 5% of the 106 person roster to shut it down, thats a small number.— Jay Gugel (@Googs33) September 16, 2020
Accept no substitutes
bout time. Very excited especially having to watch other conferences play last week. Nothing like Big Ten Football!!— Dave Stoviak (@Stovie12) September 16, 2020
Room for debate
Just parents and coaches in the stands anyways so may as well enjoy the games in TV, etc. 😷— Mark Breyer (@MarkBreyer2) September 16, 2020
They caved under the pressure. I thought they made the right decision to postpone. Don't get me wrong I'm psyched to watch football I just thought the health concerns were valid.— Josh Huang (@tatts_n_scotch5) September 16, 2020
Was inevitable when other conferences started playing. Cannot cede any ground if you’re the big 10 brass.— Phillip Marquart (@pdmarquart) September 16, 2020
Pad them up or recruits will go south.— Sherman (@BestDamnBroker) September 16, 2020
Timing is everything
At least the students won't be late to games.— Kevin Gratz (@kevin_gratz) September 16, 2020
It appears so
I hope this bodes well for basketball.— Smewgal (@Smewgal) September 16, 2020
Back to the grind
I hope everyone stays safe and healthy— Nuclear Badger (@nuclearbdgr) September 16, 2020
Along for the ride
It kinda roller coaster’ish— chris c (@ccnice1) September 16, 2020
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