The Pac-12 Conference has stated that its member schools can resume voluntary workouts on each respective campus on Monday. But, as the coronavirus continues to wreak havoc nationwide, how can Washington bring back its student-athletes safely?
Enter Rob Scheidegger and Dr. Jon Drezner.
Besides being UW’s associate athletic director for health and wellness and the football team’s head athletic trainer, Scheidegger has been appointed head of the athletic department’s COVID-19 operations committee. Drezner — the director of the UW Medicine Center for Sports Cardiology — is the team physician for UW men’s basketball, track and field and cross country, while also working with the Seattle Seahawks and OL Reign. In the last several months, he has represented UW on the Pac-12’s COVID-19 Medical Advisory Committee as well.
The Times spoke with both Scheidegger and Drezner on Tuesday. Here’s the second part of our question-and-answer guide to UW athletics’ return-to-campus plan.
What will the workouts actually look like?
There certainly won’t be any tackling or football-specific activities — at least, to begin with. Student-athletes will participate in exercises utilizing UW’s outdoor facilities in groups of five or less.
“We’re trying to get creative with our resources,” Scheidegger said. “We’ve got facilities that are really ideally suited for that exact purpose. An example would by Husky Stadium. We move some of our weight-room equipment up onto the concourse level, which allows us to provide physical distancing. We schedule small groups — groups of five or less — and we bring them in through the course of the day, give them access to equipment that they haven’t had access to since the stay-at-home order, and then some structure and the ability to do some conditioning activities in a physically distanced manner on our game field.”
So, which facilities will be available when student-athletes return?
As Scheidegger stated, Husky Stadium is an obvious choice. The concourse can also be used for a makeshift weight room. Preliminary facility decisions are still being finalized, but UW’s other outdoor athletic fields and batting cages might be utilized early as well.
As for basketball, Scheidegger said that small groups could utilize Alaska Airlines Arena “maybe in July.”
What daily testing and prevention measures will be put in place?
Before leaving home to head to campus, each student-athlete and staff member will be required to fill out and send a “daily symptom attestation” describing how they feel. If they feel remotely sick, they will be advised to stay home and monitor their symptoms further.
Upon arriving at UW’s athletics facilities, the person will confirm that they’ve sent the daily report and receive a temperature check at a designated check-in station. They will be required to follow a specific path in each facility, and if they leave and wish to reenter, they will need to go back through the check-in process.
All workouts, athletic training and physical-therapy appointments will be attended on an appointment-only basis to avoid unintended crowds.
Will football players be tested for COVID-19 more than athletes participating in less high-risk sports?
In the first phase, where all student-athletes are participating in intimate outdoor workouts in a low-risk setting, that probably won’t be necessary.
But eventually, the answer is yes.
“We know that COVID-19 is a disease that is spread through physical contact, and specifically through respiratory droplets,” Drezner said. “So if you’re face-to-face and breathing hard on someone, that is a higher risk of exposure than if you’re running by their side or 10 yards behind them or across the court from them on the tennis court.”
With that in mind, Drezner says that the NCAA has established three tiers to designate the level of risk related to COVID-19: high risk (football, basketball, wrestling, soccer, rowing), medium risk (softball, baseball, volleyball) and low risk (tennis, golf, track and field, cross country). When practices begin in earnest, a football player, for example, will be tested more than a cross-country runner.
“We want a safe playing field for everyone on all those tiers,” Drezner said. “But in some of the sports where you can’t effectively social-distance, you want some additional measure of safety and reassurance. I think that’s where the testing will come into play.”
Will UW’s football players return to campus in time to adequately prepare for the scheduled season?
Yes. Sports Illustrated reported this week that the NCAA Division I Football Oversight Committee is expected to approve a plan that would allow UW — and other schools kicking off seasons on the weekend of Sept. 5 — to begin required workouts on July 13 and a six-week extended training camp on July 24.
“Ultimately, if the NCAA and the Pac-12 Conference come out and have a six-week ramp-up to first games, we’ll get together with the experts we have in our department — our strength and conditioning coaches and our health and wellness team — and we’ll make sure we have a game plan for getting our student-athletes ready,” Scheidegger said.
“If that’s the case and there’s a student-athlete where their own particular situation makes it so it’s best for them not to come until that six-week (training camp) starts, then we’ll work with that student-athlete for that reason.”
What preventative measures will students and staff be asked to take outside of UW’s facilities?
Realistically, it’s difficult to demand college students shuttle exclusively between their home and campus. They will be asked to wear face coverings in public and make only essential trips. But the bubble will eventually burst.
Still, the idea is to promote responsible habits — for the athlete, and everyone else.
“I like to use the term ‘virtual bubble.’ It’s not really a true bubble,” Drezner said. “I think that’s sort of unrealistic that we’re going to keep everyone in a dome and no one else can go inside and you can never leave. That’s not what anyone’s proposing.
“But the idea is that for every person in the community, including our student-athletes, that they have a virtual bubble. ‘These are the places that I go and the people I interact with and I’m trying to minimize my overall interactions outside of my virtual bubble.’ I think that is going to give them the best chance to stay healthy.”
Are tests for UW student-athletes being taken away from other people who need it more?
“The testing capacity and the technology development has just been exponential,” Drezner said. “When the pandemic first hit, even in Seattle with wonderful medical centers and lots of healthcare, we were only testing the sickest of patients. Even if you were exposed, if you weren’t that sick we just recommended that you quarantine and monitor your symptoms and stay home and not even get a test. Fast-forward two and a half months, and we have the testing capacity at the University of Washington to test anyone — asymptomatic people, people who are concerned, etc.
“So the capacity has really changed. And that’s super important when it comes to the possibility of screening student-athletes, because, No. 1, we would never prioritize screening athletes at any level above the public health. If the testing capacity was not available for the public then we wouldn’t be prioritizing screening asymptomatic individuals who are athletes so they can go back to play.”
Is UW waiting for approval from county or state health officials to begin voluntary workouts?
No. The voluntary workouts held at UW during this first preliminary phase — outdoor activities in groups of five or less — already fall within King County and the state of Washington’s most recent guidelines.
But if that changes, UW will work with local health officials on standards specific to the university.
“When we move ourselves through this week-to-week progression of facility access for our student-athletes, it might not look always how the county guidelines look,” Scheidegger said. “They’re working with us. Just like how you’ve seen them come out with really specific guidelines for professional sports and specific types of businesses, they’re providing us with the same feedback and the same type of communication for our unique circumstances.”