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Core Principles of Resocialization of Collegiate Sport: Developing Standards for Practice and Competition Frequently Asked Questions

Updated July 23, 2020

This frequently asked questions document has been developed in support of the release of the document Core Principles of Resocialization of Collegiate Sport: Developing Standards for Practice and Competition (Practice and Competition Guidance), the third in a series of three resocialization documents intended to provide guidance to the NCAA membership about issues arising from the COVID-19 global pandemic. The content of the Practice and Competition Guidance updates and extends, and in some cases replaces, the guidance provided in the previous two documents. Consequently, FAQ content from the previous two resocialization documents (Core Principles and Action Plan) has been archived and will be made available to the membership as a historical document.

As with prior NCAA publications, the materials are meant to be consistent with guidance published by the federal government and its health agencies. This document is reflective of the relevant scientific and medical information available at the time of print. These materials are not and should not be used as a substitute for medical or legal advice. Rather, they are intended as a resource for member schools to use in coordination with applicable government and related institutional policies and guidelines, and they remain subject to further revision as available data and information in this space continue to emerge and evolve.

Questions can be directed to SSI@ncaa.org.

Why was this third document created?

The Practice and Competition Guidance was written to update and extend the guidance provided in the prior two documents (i.e., Core Principles and Action Plan) regarding resocialization of collegiate sport. The primary purpose of the document is to consider the development of standards regarding COVID-19 risk mitigation during practice and competition, including testing. Importantly, this third document was written and released in the setting of a considerable increase in COVID-19 infections in many parts of the country. This increase in infection spread is occurring at a time when students and student-athletes are preparing to return to campuses, and in some Division I sports, while student-athletes are returning to participate in required summer athletic activities.

Are COVID-19 testing considerations an important part of this document, and if so, why?

Yes, this document provides new and expanded guidance on COVID-19 testing, including suggested protocols for testing based on the contact risk of individual sports. Testing is one way to mitigate COVID-19 spread. Because there is a higher risk of infection spread in some sports relative to others, testing is a way of identifying and tracking new infections, including potential team outbreaks, in the setting of athletic practice and competition.

Why does the document place so much emphasis on masks/cloth face coverings? What role does masking play in the prevention of COVID-19 infection?

Universal masking, along with physical distancing, cough and sneeze etiquette, and hand sanitization, has been shown to markedly decrease the risk of COVID-19 infection spread. We have learned much about the importance of masks/cloth face coverings since the beginning of this pandemic, and a growing body of evidence demonstrates that face masking effectively decreases the probability of spread. This is why all athletics personnel are encouraged to wear a mask/cloth face covering at all feasible times, but especially when physical distancing isn’t practical or possible. This includes outdoor spaces where physical distancing is not possible (for example, an outdoor sporting event). We anticipate emerging information regarding masking recommendations when in poorly ventilated areas for a more prolonged period of time and will provide updated information to the membership as it becomes available. Because wearing a face mask becomes impractical for student-athletes during some aspects of practice and during competition, testing becomes an important and complementary tool for tracking potential COVID-19 spread.

What is the role of face shields in the prevention of COVID-19 infection spread? Is there any risk from using them, especially if they are placed on football helmets?

While the CDC continues to recommend wearing “cloth face coverings” in public settings where other social distancing measures are difficult to maintain, some health experts believe it is reasonable to conclude that face shields may be an effective alternative. The use of a face shield, an emerging consideration as either an alternative or supplement to a face mask/cloth face covering, similarly may mitigate spread of virus from an infected individual to a noninfected person. The CDC does not currently recommend that the face shield may replace a cloth face covering, but does note that individuals may choose to use a face shield when sustained close contact with other people is expected, provided the shield wraps around the sides of the wearer’s face and extends to below the chin if used without a mask/cloth face covering.

Schools may want to consider the effectiveness of face shields as a potential alternative to the use of masks/cloth face coverings for protection of others against exposure by infected individuals as they may offer some protection from COVID-19 spread but with less impediment in terms of heat, moisture and effective communication. They also have the potential added benefit of preventing wearers from touching their face.

The idea of a face shield that attaches to an athletic helmet for purposes of virus protection is new, and there is no published data available that speaks specifically to potential health and safety considerations related to their use. However, those face shields that have been custom-manufactured to affix to the face mask of a football helmet clip on and off easily, and anecdotal evidence to date suggests that their use may be well-tolerated by student-athletes. 

Importantly, these products are considered helmet add-ons and require confirmation from the helmet manufacturer that the helmet can retain necessary National Operating Committee on Standards for Athletic Equipment certification when the shield is added. Schools are advised to confirm with the manufacturer of their football helmets before deciding to purchase or add a face shield product.

Why does the document place such emphasis on outdoor training? Why is it necessary to differentiate between outdoor and indoor?

Although the primary means by which COVID-19 is spread is by respiratory droplets (thus masks/cloth face coverings helping to decrease respiratory droplet spread), there is also emerging evidence that the virus may persist in an aerosolized form in the air, thereby increasing the possibility of airborne spread. But risk of such airborne spread is reduced when people are  outdoors or in well-ventilated spaces. Therefore, the document emphasizes that whenever possible, outdoor athletic activities are preferable to indoor, all other factors being equal.

The first document, Core Principles of Resocialization of Collegiate Sport, emphasized three progressive phases of engagement in athletic activity, with each phase lasting at least two weeks. Does the Practice and Competition Guidance override that recommendation?

The Core Principles document was written at a time when it was reasonable to anticipate national guidance on surveillance, testing strategies and contact tracing. However, national guidance never fully materialized. Instead and as it became apparent that many of the virus-related risks and behaviors would vary by geography, state and local authorities became the primary source of public health guidance. At the same time, considerable evidence has emerged regarding the efficacy of masking/cloth face coverings, which was not emphasized at the time of the first publication, and which has important implications for comprehensive COVID-19 prevention strategies. Given the shifting public health authority paradigm and the evolving evidence about how to mitigate COVID-19 infection spread, the Practice and Competition Guidance reflects a move away from the original phase-in criteria but continues to emphasize the importance of the first two weeks of athletics engagement and a holistic approach to policies for mitigating COVID-19 infection spread with a new focus on the strategic use of testing.

Why does the document recommend the use of functional units as a consideration for group practice and physical conditioning activities?

As the Practice and Competition Guidance describes, a functional unit may be composed of five to 10 individuals, all members of the same team, who consistently work out and participate in activities together. When an individual tests positive for COVID-19, it is the responsibility of local public health officials, through the use of contact tracers, to identify all high-risk contacts of that newly infected individual. Training in smaller functional units can reduce the burden of contact tracing because it limits the number of people who are likely to be considered high-risk contacts of an infected individual to those within the established functional unit. The strict use of functional units for training, when combined with good risk mitigation behaviors outside athletics, also can mean the avoidance of full team or large group quarantines if a student-athlete tests positive.

The document identifies rowing as a high contact risk sport. Can this classification be clarified further, to account for the differences between small and big boats?

The classification of rowing as a high contact risk sport is based on the fact that, in sculls of two or more people, there is an increased probability of exposure arising from both the proximity of the athletes to one another and the amount of time that exposure is maintained during practice and/or competition events. However, for single-occupancy sculls, rowing would have a low contact risk. Double-occupancy sculls also can be considered a low contact risk if these two individuals live in the same household. Rowing in large sculls (8+, 4+, 4x) is considered a high contact risk scenario.

The pre-competition testing recommendation states that testing should be done within 72 hours of competition for football, or within 72 hours of the first of a week’s set of games for other sports with high contact risk. Is it reasonable to substitute three calendar days for the 72-hour recommendation?

Yes. Seventy-two hours is meant as a general guide, and a testing paradigm allowing three calendar days is consistent with the intent of the 72-hour recommendation. This means, for example, that if a football game is scheduled for midafternoon Saturday, testing could be done Wednesday morning, as opposed to sometime after midafternoon Wednesday. This may help with testing logistics, including the time needed to get samples to a lab. Importantly, schools should consider protocols that ensure student-athletes can continue to observe all risk mitigation strategies after testing has been done.

What if the pre-competition test was performed on time but the test result release is delayed?

The Practice and Competition Guidance calls for test results to be available to team medical personnel within the 72-hour window before competition begins so that any necessary contact tracing, isolation of infected individual(s) and quarantining of at-risk teammates and staff can be completed before the start of the event. Competing without test results is not consistent with the intent of the Practice and Competition Guidance.

Our conference has suspended/canceled the fall competitive season, but our school will allow student-athletes to train in the fall while they are on campus. Do the COVID-19 testing considerations described in the Practice and Competition Guidance apply to these student-athletes during this time? Does the contact risk classification of the sport influence testing decisions? 

The Practice and Competition Guidance was intended to provide suggested testing protocols to be considered as part of a competitive season. In the event that a school (or conference) elects to cancel or discontinue a competitive season, it would be expected that student-athletes would be tested in a manner consistent with any protocols that have been implemented as part of school policies for the broader student body and that the athletics department would continue to evaluate the potential applicability of all other state, local and institution guidance and other relevant health and safety information (for example, the NCAA resocialization materials) that may be relevant to the student-athletes’  level of continued athletic engagement. If training occurs as part of voluntary/required summer athletic activities, or out-of-season athletic activities, recommendations for such training are provided in the Practice and Competition Guidance document.

The document states that polymerase chain reaction testing is currently the gold standard testing method, but it notes that alternative strategies may need to be considered as testing technology evolves. What does this mean for my campus as we are trying to finalize our testing protocols for fall sport student-athletes?

PCR lab-based testing has a very high sensitivity (few false negatives) and specificity (few false positives). It is conceivable that PCR testing may become more impractical over time, especially if there continue to be delays in processing tests and providing timely results. Point-of-care tests may become a feasible alternative solution, including point-of-care antigen testing, point-of-care isothermal nucleic acid amplification testing and point-of-care PCR testing. The membership will be provided updates about these emerging technologies and their applicability to sport as that information becomes available.

The document states that a school should have in place a mechanism for notifying an opposing team in the event a student-athlete who participated in a competition with that opposing team tests positive within 48 hours after the competition. Can this recommendation be explained further?

The 48-hour reference was intended to suggest a window after competition during which teams should continue to be vigilant about the possibility that pre-competition infection, or infection in connection with a competition event, may have occurred. Regardless of when testing is performed or when symptoms manifest, it is extremely important for teams to carefully track all student-athletes and personnel who travel and participate in competition activities, such that, if one of those individuals develops symptoms or tests positive during or after the competition, the school is able to effectively implement applicable contact tracing protocols and notify impacted individuals, including those who may be part of an opposing team or its staff.

Who decides the status of fall athletics competition schedules?

Decisions related to whether fall competition schedules will be modified or discontinued may be influenced by three primary decision-making authorities:

  • State and local public health authorities: (See “Considerations Related to the Discontinuation of Athletics” in the Practice and Competition Guidance).
  • Member schools and athletics conferences.
  • Association governance: The NCAA Board of Governors has authority to determine the continuation or discontinuation of all fall sport national championships, with the exception of the Football Bowl Subdivision College Football Playoff, and divisional governance has the authority to manage requirements related to membership and student-athlete eligibility.
Has the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention provided any material updates that would impact the information included in the Practice and Competition Guidance?

Yes. The CDC continues to update its recommendations based on emerging research and evidence. Subsequent to the publication of the Practice and Competition Guidance, the CDC published the following research-based findings pertaining to the Duration of Isolation and Precautions for Adults with COVID-19:

  • Individuals with mild to moderate COVID-19 remain infectious no longer than 10 days after symptom onset.
  • Individuals with more severe to critical illness or severe immunocompromise likely remain infectious no longer than 20 days after symptom onset.
  • While recovered people can continue to shed the virus for months after illness onset, they do so at concentrations considerably lower than during illness, making infectiousness unlikely.
  • Research has not shown that clinically recovered people have infected others.

The CDC believes the above findings strengthen the justification for relying on a symptom-based strategy, rather than test-based, for ending isolation of infected patients, so that these individuals are not kept unnecessarily isolated and excluded from activities. Accordingly, the CDC has updated its recommendations as they relate to this population as follows:

  • For most people with COVID-19 illness, isolation and precautions can generally be discontinued 10 days after symptom onset and resolution of fever for at least 24 hours, without the use of fever-reducing medications, and with improvement of other symptoms.
  • A limited number of people with severe illness may warrant extending duration of isolation and precautions for up to 20 days after symptom onset; consultation with infection control experts should be considered.
  • For individuals who test positive but never develop symptoms, isolation and other precautions can be discontinued 10 days after the date of their first positive PCR test for SARS-CoV-2.
  • For people who are severely immunocompromised, a test-based strategy could be considered in consultation with infectious diseases experts, but for all others, a test-based strategy is no longer recommended except if considering discontinuation of isolation other than as outlined above.
  • For people previously diagnosed with symptomatic COVID-19 who remain asymptomatic after recovery, retesting is not recommended within three months after the date of symptom onset for the initial COVID-19 infection, and quarantine is not recommended for these individuals in the event of close contact with an infected person. 
  • For individuals who tested positive but never developed symptoms, the date of first positive PCR for SARS-CoV-2 should be used in place of the date of symptom onset. 
  • If new symptoms develop in previously infected individuals within three months after the date of initial symptom onset, and if an alternative etiology cannot be identified by a provider, the person may warrant retesting and consultation with an infectious disease expert, especially in the event symptoms develop within 14 days after close contact with an infected person.
Are there any other updates that would impact the information included in the Practice and Competition Guidance?

Yes. Experts from the American Medical Society for Sports Medicine COVID-19 Working Group have updated their exercise recommendations for college student-athletes infected with COVID-19, and they now recommend that athletes with new infection and no symptoms follow the same exercise recommendations as athletes with new infection and mild illness. This means that those newly infected athletes with no symptoms should not exercise for at least 10 days, and possibly longer if symptoms develop. The updated recommendations can be found on the AMSSM website.