NCAA Sport Science Institute Issues Next Set of Return-to-Sports Guidelines

Will the NCAA schools have a season in the winter? Time is running out. Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

The NCAA Sport Science Institute has released guidelines to help schools with navigating a return to fall sports this upcoming school year, according to a release from the NCAA and a report from ESPN. The guidelines include daily self-heath checks as well as testing athletes within 72 hours of competition in high contact risk sports.

Fall sports have been in danger the last few weeks of not being played, and several conferences across all three divisions, including the Ivy League and NESCAC among others, have already indicated their schools will not be competing in fall sports, which includes the big moneymaker: football.

In order for college sports to return to normal, the NCAA has put forth these regulations for teams.

The guidelines are designed to inform schools in responding appropriately based on their specific circumstances and in the best interest of returning college athletes’ health and well-being.  Many sports require close, personal contact and require specially crafted guidelines. Among the recommendations put forth:

  • Daily self-health checks.
  • The appropriate use of face coverings and social distancing during training, competition and outside of athletics.
  • Testing strategies for all athletics activities, including pre-season, regular season and post-season.
  • Testing and results within 72 hours of competition in high contact risk sports.
  • Member schools must adhere to public health standards set by their local communities.

The power five Division I conferences: ACC, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-12 and SEC have made their own separate decisions regarding sports.

The ACC decision allows “each campus to further focus on ensuring return to competition protocols are in place to facilitate the resocialization process.” A unanimous decision by the ACC’s Board of Directors, it covers soccer, cross country, volleyball and field hockey.

The Big Ten’s proviso covers the same sports plus football. “By limiting competition to other Big Ten institutions,” a statement read, “the Conference will have the greatest flexibility to adjust its own operations throughout the season and make quick decisions in real-time based on the most current evolving medical advice and the fluid nature of the pandemic.”

The Pac-12’s fall sports will play only conference opponents, while the SEC has delayed the start of the fall season for volleyball, soccer and cross country.

The elephant in the room is the economic fallout that could happen if schools are not able to play a full football season this year. Many schools have had to make the difficult decision to cut sports, including swimming at East Carolina, Connecticut & Dartmouth due to a falling out in the budget. If football cannot be played, the number of cut teams will increase.

“Any recommendation on a pathway toward a safe return to sport will depend on the national trajectory of COVID-19 spread,” said Brian Hainline, NCAA chief medical officer. “The idea of sport re-socialization is predicated on a scenario of reduced or flattened infection rates.”

“When we made the extremely difficult decision to cancel last spring’s championships it was because there was simply no way to conduct them safely,” said NCAA President Mark Emmert. “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. 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.”

According to the NCAA release, the recommendations were developed in collaboration with the NCAA COVID-19 Advisory Panel, American Medical Society for Sports Medicine (AMSSM) COVID-19 Working Group, Autonomy-5 Medical Advisory Group, National Medical Association, and NCAA Committee on Competitive Safeguards and Medical Aspects of Sports Prevention and Performance Subcommittee. The guidance also takes into consideration recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.