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Planning for fall championships continues despite COVID-19

Flexibility will be key as college sports navigates through unprecedented times

The planning for the 2020 fall NCAA championships is moving forward with the idea to prepare for adjustments in these unpredictable times.

During the latest NCAA Social Series, Senior Vice President of Championships Joni Comstock, Division I Competition Oversight Committee Chair Lynda Tealer and Chief Medical Officer Brian Hainline discussed how they are leading preparations as college sports attempts to return during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The discussions are centered on ways to protect the health, safety and well-being of student-athletes, coaches, administrators and spectators. At the foundation of the talks is maintaining fair and equitable selection protocol and retaining the same formats under the same timelines and at the same previously determined sites.

However, alterations may have to occur due to local, state or national health and safety mandates.

“Clearly, this is a new challenge for us,” Comstock said. “We have been listening and collaborating at a completely different level with the sports committees.”

Sharing information from the NCAA COVID-19 Advisory Panel, which is headed by Hainline, is part of the process, so the individual sports committees have all the information to make decisions should they have to alter any selection, seeding and bracketing procedures.

Infectious disease experts have warned there could be another spike of the COVID-19 virus in late November or December. If that is the case, fall championships could be moved up to avoid championships being interrupted.

The membership is aware of the sense of loss student-athletes felt with the cancellations announced in March of the remaining 2020 winter and spring championships. Preliminary consideration is being given in hopes of avoiding that type of scenario again.

“We are in early discussions right now of looking at ‘Does it make sense for us to move up the regular season and try to conclude fall championships on, around or before the week of Thanksgiving?’” Comstock said. “If we can, and it makes sense, we certainly would like to have a complete experience for the student-athletes this fall.”

On Wednesday, the Division I Council voted to allow football and basketball student-athletes to participate in on-campus voluntary athletics activities beginning June 1, as long as all local, state and federal regulations are followed. On Friday, the Council voted to allow voluntary athletics activities in all Division I sports beginning June 1.

“There is a lot of concern on campus about getting this right and doing things safely,” said Tealer, who is also the executive associate athletics director at Florida. “We are equipped to do that.”

If student-athletes are going to begin workouts again, Tealer thinks campuses can provide the safest atmosphere.

Schools can provide sanitized facilities and manage the number of people who are working out at a specific time. Temperature checks and other health screenings and tests could be made available.

Hainline added that medical advancements regarding testing for the COVID-19 virus could help enhance the return of college sports.

“Right now, the diagnostic test for the viral antigen can only handle four or five tests at a time,” Hainline said. “But a new technology came out recently that bumped that up to close to 50. If that can be perfected, and we can get batch testing to 100 or 500, that will be a game changer.”

Hainline also said there is a new point-of-care test being developed that could be used in settings like a doctor’s office. Test results could be known in five to 10 minutes. The first round of this testing proved to be around 80% accurate. If the testing becomes more accurate, it would mark another breakthrough.

Comstock, Tealer and Hainline are optimistic about the fall championships, provided there are no setbacks from the virus.

“We are trying to figure out the way, and we think we can,” Hainline said.