Certain student-athletes at Washington State will be allowed to start participating in voluntary workouts on Monday as the school initiates a phased-in return to college athletics since the COVID-19 pandemic shuttered the sports world in March.
WSU began administering coronavirus tests to student-athletes on June 4 and Athletic Director Pat Chun estimated just under 60 athletes, mostly football players, have been tested intermittently since then. As of Thursday, no Cougar athlete had tested positive for the illness, Chun told reporters on a Zoom webinar.
“I think right now when we open up our weight rooms on Monday, I think we’re anticipating about 60 should have been cleared, should have made appointments to get into the weight room to have a session with their strength coaches,” Chun said.
The first wave of Cougar athletes who will be permitted to work out on campus will consist of those participating in fall sports and those who’ve remained in Pullman since the conclusion of the spring semester. Chun said the majority of WSU’s football players have either returned to campus to begin the preliminary testing process or plan to do so within the next week.
Every athlete who returns to Pullman will be required to self-quarantine for a minimum of seven days before participating in workouts, and international athletes will be required to do so for 14 days.
Athletes will also have to go undergo a series of tests in order to be cleared for workouts. Those include PCR, or Polymerase Chain Reaction COVID-19 tests, which includes the use of a nasal swab, as well as antibody tests and pre-participation physical exams, according to a school news release.
It’s still unclear how the school will cover the costs that come with testing, but Chun indicated health insurance will cover “a piece of it” and said the school is exploring various budgeting options related to the medical expenses it anticipated.
“We understand it’s one of those nonnegotiables that we’ll have to figure out how to cover,” Chun said.
If an athlete tests positive for COVID-19, they will be “followed up with contact tracing and isolation.” All staff and athletes will undergo daily symptom attestations and temperature screens before they’re permitted to return to their respective athletic facilities.
Chun also outlined the department’s plan on how it will divide student-athletes, in accordance with Gov. Jay Inslee’s reopen plan that mandates workouts must be conducted in groups or five or fewer.
“In talking with all of our strength coaches and really all of our head coaches, specifically the fall sports, the preference is actually to do more outdoor work, which goes better with kind of the health standards that have been laid out to us,” Chun said. “We’re going to do groups of five at all times, regardless of if it’s indoors or outdoors. We’ve broken up our fields into quadrants to accommodate it, and we have a cleaning regimen in between workouts, post-workouts. So it’s pretty structured and pretty scheduled out now.”
On Thursday, Yahoo! Sports reported recommendations from the NCAA Football Oversight Committee pertaining to when and how football coaches will begin formally working with their athletes. The committee’s proposal states that schools could have access to players on July 13, allowing them to coach strength workouts and “engage in film study,” according to Yahoo!, and summer access can start 25 days before the first day of preseason camp.
The eight-hour weeks would eventually transition into a pair of 20-hour weeks, per the report, and include the activities listed above along with walk-throughs and the use of a football.
Preseason training camps could start 29 days before the season opener, according to The Athletic, which conceivably allows the Cougars, who open Sept. 3 at Utah State, to begin practicing on Aug. 5.
Chun referenced the proposed plan in Thursday’s webinar and indicated WSU would take a more aggressive approach toward COVID-19 testing as preseason camp approaches.
“There’s a six-week model I think we’re going to try to get to, and it’s really incumbent in all 12 of our schools being able to start in week six, counting down toward the start of our season,” Chun said. “We’ll ramp up testing when we get to that point. The good thing is we’ve still got some time, but football is considered a high-risk sport relative to COVID-19. We recognize that and we’ll educate our student-athletes on those risks.”
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