NCAA Lays Out Plan for Playing but Warns of Surging Pandemic

The NCAA handed down its latest guidelines for playing through a pandemic while also sounding an alarm: The prospect of having a fall semester with football and other sports is looking grim. If the games can go on, the NCAA says college athletes should be tested for COVID-19 no more than 72 hours before they play, players with high-risk exposures to the coronavirus should be quarantined for 14 days and everybody on the sideline should wear a mask.

The nation’s largest governing body for college sports released an updated guidance Thursday to help member schools navigate competition, but it comes as the pandemic rages on. Around the country, the number of COVID-19 cases are on the rise and many states have slowed reopenings or reinstated social-distancing restrictions on some businesses. “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 said in a 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.”

The recommendations were developed by the NCAA COVID-19 Advisory Panel, Autonomy-5 Medical Advisory Group, representing the ACC, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-12 and SEC, and other medical groups. The Autonomy-5 or Power Five conferences also intend to provide their own similar guidance to schools. A copy of that document, which has not been finalized, was obtained by The Associated Press and first reported on by Sports Illustrated. Even before the NCAA’s announcement, the American Athletic Conference said it planned to require its schools to meet or exceed NCAA guidance.

Among the highlights of the NCAA’s recommendations:

— Test results should be obtained within 72 hours of competition for athletes competing in so-called high-contact risk sports, such as football, basketball, hockey and lacrosse.

— Face shields should be integrated into sports where feasible.

— Masks should be worn by everyone on a sideline, including when an athlete moves from the playing field to interact with a coach.

— CDC guidelines should be used for determining when individuals can resume activities after testing positive for COVID-19. Time-based strategy means isolation until 72 hours after recovery and at least 10 days after symptoms first appeared.

— All individuals with high-risk exposure must be quarantined for 14 days.

The final point could be crucial for managing a team this season. Simply being deemed a close contact of someone who tests positive could sideline players for two weeks.

At this point, though, the hopes of being able to conduct a college football season in the fall are dimming. Plans are already being made to modify it.

The Big Ten and Pac-12 announced last week that they would play only conference games in football and other sports to help minimize potential disruptions caused by COVID-19.