The NCAA Sport Science Institute released updated guidelines for college sports in regards to COVID-19 testing and protocols on Thursday.
The guidelines are intended to give schools instruction on how to return to athletic competition as safely as possible. The recommendations include:
- Conducting and getting results from COVID-19 tests within 72 hours of competition in high contact risk sports (basketball, field hockey, football, ice hockey, lacrosse, rowing, rugby, soccer, squash, volleyball, water polo, wrestling).
- Checking athletes and athletic personnel wellness is required before entering athletics facilities.
- Isolating asymptomatic carriers for 10 days.
- Isolating symptomatic carriers for at least 10 days since symptoms first appeared and at least 72 hours since recovery.
- Quarantining individuals with high-risk exposure for 14 days.
- Using Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) testing is preferred, but others will be considered as testing evolves.
Conferences can add to these guidelines should they chose to, but they are the minimum required.
However, fall sports still may be canceled or postponed this season.
“Any recommendation on a pathway toward a safe return to sport will depend on the national trajectory of COVID-19 spread,” NCAA chief medical officer Brian Hainline said in the release. “The idea of sport resocialization is predicated on a scenario of reduced or flattened infection rates.”
Isolating individuals for 14 days if they’ve had high risk of exposure — being within 6 feet of someone with COVID-19 for at least 15 minutes, having direct physical contact with an infected person, etc. — could cause large groups of players or entire teams to sit out of practice and competition for that time.
The NCAA’s guidelines also state that competition should be canceled if local situations deem it necessary. Some of those scenarios include campuses being unable to isolate new positive cases, the inability to test athletes, unsafe spikes in campus or community test rates, inadequate contact tracing measures, or hospital infrastructures being unable to accommodate an increase in COVID-19 patients.
The timing of test results and game travel for high contact risk sports like football is an issue programs will need to consider. Referees in both football and basketball are to be test weekly as well, due to their close contact with players.
This is the third update to COVID-19 guidelines the NCAA has announced since college sports were shut down in early March due to the pandemic. Student-athletes across the country, including those at the University of Wisconsin, have been returning to college campuses for workouts this summer.
UW athletes have been administered PCR nasal swab tests upon returning to campus and must pass them before they are allowed to work out in campus facilities. UW reported on July 8 that seven of 171 student-athletes tested have been COVID-19 positive.
The Big Ten Conference announced last week that its members will only play fall sports against each other, canceling all non-conference competition. Part of that decision was to ensure all athletes undergo the same testing regiment.
“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 wrote in the 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.”
Todd Milewski contributed to this report.