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Core Principles of Resocialization of Collegiate Sport: Frequently Asked Questions

Updated May 28, 2020

This frequently asked questions document was originally developed in support of the release of the document, Core Principles of Resocialization of Collegiate Sport (Core Principles) which was developed in consultation with the NCAA COVID-19 Advisory Panel (Advisory Panel). It has been updated to support the release of a companion document, Resocialization of Collegiate Sport: Action Plan Considerations (Action Plan), and to address resocialization-related questions received since the release of the Core Principles document. This revision also includes information reflective of input received from the NCAA Committee on Competitive Safeguards and Medical Aspects of Sports Prevention and Performance Subcommittee and the American Medical Society for Sports Medicine COVID Working Group in response to membership inquiries specific to the COVID-19 situation.

These materials are offered as further guidance for the concepts in the Core Principles and Action Plan documents and are meant to be consistent with the Guidelines for Opening Up America Again published by the federal government (Federal Guidelines) and its corresponding health agencies and otherwise reflective of the best available 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. They remain subject to further revision as available data and information in this space continues to emerge and evolve. In the meantime, questions can be directed to SSI@ncaa.org.

*Indicates new or updated content.

Section I: Core Principles of Resocialization of Collegiate Sport

Is the Core Principles document intended to represent formalized best practices or Association-wide policy? In other words, are member schools obligated to follow these guidelines?

Unlike many of the other health and safety materials disseminated by the NCAA, this document is not formally endorsed by any third-party organization and does not represent Association-wide policy. Rather, its purpose is to provide broad guidance to the membership based on currently available evidence regarding COVID-19 and resocialization at both the society and sport level. As our understanding of COVID-19 is rapidly evolving, it is likely that these Core Principles may be updated.

Importantly, a decision to follow the Core Principles  is to be made at the individual school level, with the approval of institutional leadership, and in concert with applicable guidance from local and state public officials with regard to return to campus, return to practice, and return to competition. In the end, institutional and governmental leadership will determine who can participate in, assist with and watch student-athlete practices and competition.

Although the Core Principles document is meant to serve as guidance, there are several places in the document where the word "must" is used rather than "should." Why the difference?

The members of the advisory panel believe that when these Core Principles are followed, certain criteria are essential to, and must be in place for, proper resocialization of sport to occur. This includes the following:

  • There must not be national directives that preclude resocialization.

  • State and local authorities must have a resocialization plan in place.

  • A school's athletics department must have a resocialization plan in place.

  • Athletics health care providers must have access to personal protective equipment.

  • There must be the ability to work on the local/regional level to assess immunity, provide rapid diagnostic testing, have a surveillance system in place and develop transparent risk analyses.

Although these represent strongly worded statements from the advisory panel, in keeping with the spirit of the document, the overall content is meant to serve as guidance only.

How did the Core Principles document originate?

The first draft of the Core Principles of Resocialization of Collegiate Sport was written in consultation with the Advisory Panel. The Federal Guidelines were published as the NCAA draft document was being reviewed. As there were many similarities between the NCAA draft document and the Federal Guidelines, the decision was made to merge the content from these two documents.

Was the Core Principles document reviewed by the NCAA membership before its release and, if so, how?

Yes. NCAA Chief Medical Officer Brian Hainline presented the document to numerous membership committees and groups before its public release. These included the following:

  • Association-wide: Board of Governors and Committee on Competitive Safeguards and Medical Aspects of Sports.
  • Division I: Strategic Vision and Planning Committee, Division I Council, Presidential Forum, Board of Directors, Football Oversight Committee, Competition Oversight Committee, Men's and Women's Basketball Oversight Committees, and Collegiate Commissioners Association.
  • Divisions II/III: Management Councils and Presidents Councils.

Even though the content of the Core Principles document mirrors the Federal Guidelines, many states seem to be opening up in a manner that is not completely consistent with the Federal Guidelines. What does this mean for member schools?

As is reflected in the Federal Guidelines, each state has the authority to implement resocialization in a manner that it deems appropriate. This may mean that the Core Principles document will not be followed precisely or at all. As the Core Principles and the Federal Guidelines are meant to provide nonbinding guidance, each member school must operate in accordance with guidance from local and state public officials but will have the flexibility to further develop guidelines that are more consistent with the Core Principles or even more restrictive than the Core Principles. The Core Principles are meant to serve as guidance for the resocialization of sport.

*What type of activities are recommended in Phase One?

Phase One contemplates the beginning of sport resocialization for each sport once a team reconvenes on campus after the gating criteria have been satisfied. Phase One can be considered a testing phase, to help determine the readiness of an athletics department to begin working with student-athletes. It is recommended that physical distancing and strict sanitation measures remain in place. Masks are necessary when physical distancing is not possible, and repetitive handling of a shared object such as game balls and other shared equipment should be avoided. In keeping with updated CDC guidance, if game balls are shared, this should be done in a controlled manner with strict attention to sanitizing hands, the ball, and avoidance of face touching. It is particularly important to adhere to strict sanitation procedures: Common areas such as gyms and training rooms should remain closed unless strict distancing and sanitation measures can be implemented, and group activities should be limited to 10 or fewer individuals.

*What type of activities are recommended in Phase Two?

Phase Two is a continuation of Phase One, but the size of gatherings can be increased to 50 people, as long as physical distancing and sanitation practices remain in place. Masks are still recommended when physical distancing is not possible. This phase allows for more organized group activities, and the sharing of common objects such as game balls should be done in a controlled manner with attention to sanitizing balls and hands, and avoidance of face touching. If equipment is shared, it should be done with attention to sound sanitizing practices.

*What types of activities are recommended in Phase Three?

Phase Three signifies that Phases One and Two have been successfully implemented, meaning that protocols involving personnel, athletes and infrastructure were followed/amended as necessary and federal and/or state gating criteria were satisfied. Careful adherence to infection control remains in place, but it is during Phase Three that repetitive handling of common objects such as game balls and other shared equipment may become more commonplace, but still with sanitizing practices in mind. Because of the increase in contact among individuals, it remains important to be aware of the possibility of new infections and the important role that contact tracing will play in those scenarios.

*When teams gather on campus for the first time, in what resocialization phase do they start? Is it possible to begin either summer access or fall practice in Phase Two or Phase Three if that is the status of the community in which the school is located?

As noted above, each state has the authority to implement resocialization in a manner that it deems appropriate and each member school should decide whether and to what extent to apply the Core Principles in accordance with guidance from local and state public officials.

That said, the structure of the Core Principles document contemplates that each team will begin organized activities in Phase One, regardless of the status of the institution's community resocialization efforts. As teams reconvene for the first time, student-athletes and staff may be relocating from distant locations with varying public health situations and resocialization policies. While schools are free to apply some or all of the Core Principles, the document contemplates the start of activities at Phase One for each sport team to account for a more restrictive resocialization plan that may want to provide more time for schools to understand the health status of all members of the team, and to proceed more conservatively.

*In what phase can competition with other schools begin? Do we have to wait for the completion of a two-week Phase Three before starting to compete?

Unlike Phase One and Phase Two of resocialization, which are well-defined two-week phases, Phase Three doesn’t contemplate a specific timeframe but, rather, is designed to continue until such time as effective and accessible treatment or widespread vaccination and/or immunity exist. The model contemplates that schools will continue Phase Three precautions during that time so as to be ready to respond in the event of infection in an athletic team.

Phase Three activities contemplate the repetitive handling of common objects, such as game balls and other shared equipment, and the commencement of high contact activities like practice and competition. However, because the Phase Three guidance in the Core Principles document does not speak to the physiological and mental health aspects of practice and competition readiness, answers to this question must be generated by the school in close consultation with the coaches, student-athletes and applicable medical staff of each team.

*What is the guidance on distancing between groups?  For example, during Phase One when group size is limited to 10, do the Core Principles contemplate that two groups of 10 should be in the same facility? If so, is minimum distancing contemplated between groups?

These decisions should be evaluated by the school on a case-by-case basis in light of the totality of the applicable risks. While not specifically stated, it is reasonable to conclude that physical distancing would be contemplated within groups, even when those groups are small.

*Do the Core Principles address the possibility of a setback or resurgence in cases in a later phase of resocialization? For example, if a school has successfully progressed to Phase Two but suddenly finds it is no longer complying with the gating criteria, do Core Principles contemplate that the institution would rebound to Phase One, or implement 14 days of shelter in place?

Based on the capabilities of currently available testing alternatives, existing standards of care suggest a quarantine period of at least 14 days for all newly infected individuals and their high-risk (e.g., "inner bubble") contacts. Accordingly, if infection occurs after the commencement of team practice activities and impacts a broad group of individuals, this response plan could involve, among other things, temporarily or permanently ceasing in-person activities. If the infection occurs during a period in which a competition takes place, the response and mitigation plan will likely need to contemplate the safety of student-athletes and staff from the opposing team. Additional details can be found here.

Section II: Resocialization of Collegiate Sport: Action Plan Considerations

*What is the role of the Action Plan document in relationship to the original  Core Principles document? Who wrote the Action Plan document?

The Action Plan document serves as a follow up to, and assumes the premise of, the Core Principles. The information in the Action Plan document, which was developed in consultation with the NCAA COVID-19 Advisory Panel, is also offered as guidance and is meant to be consistent with guidance published by the federal government and its corresponding health agencies and otherwise reflective of the best available scientific and medical information available at the time of print. The Action Plan is not and should not be used as a substitute for medical or legal advice. Rather, it is intended as a resource for member schools to use in coordination with applicable government and related institutional policies and guidelines and it remains subject to further revision as available data and information in this space continues to emerge and evolve.

*Is testing a necessary component of successfully implementing resocialization of sport?

Universal access to testing is strongly preferred. Importantly, there are two types of tests to consider.

The first type of test is diagnostic testing, which means that the test result indicates if an individual is currently infected with COVID-19. Most diagnostic tests are performed in a laboratory using the polymerase chain reaction technique for identifying the SARS-CoV-2 virus that is responsible for COVID-19, and the turnaround time for test results is usually between 8 and 48 hours. The current standard is for the sample to be obtained via a nasopharyngeal swab, although nasal swabs and salivary samples are being studied as alternatives. Point-of-care diagnostic tests are also being developed, and although such tests may provide a result within minutes, they require further validation. Additionally, a new antigen point-of-care test has been developed, which also must undergo further validation steps Although the infrastructure for diagnostic testing has been steadily increasing, it is not likely that the federal or state governments will be providing such tests at the school level. Therefore, each member school, or each conference, should consider developing relationships within the broader community health care infrastructure that will allow ready access to such testing.

The second type of test — serological testing — is still in the developmental stages. Theoretically, this type of test will determine whether an individual has antibodies to SARS-CoV-2, and the presence of such antibodies might confirm immunity to future infection or reinfection. The validity of such tests is in the early stages, and there are few that are U.S. Food and Drug Administration-approved. Serological testing may be useful in the future to help determine immunity.

The third type of test — surveillance testing — is an important aspect of the mathematical modeling and epidemiological analysis of COVID-19. Surveillance testing can be used to monitor virus movement, effect on certain groups of people and patterns of growth and decline. Such testing is currently still in its infancy. Because emerging adults may develop COVID-19 with minimal or no symptoms, diagnostic testing provides a method to mitigate infection spread, which is one reason why such testing is an important component of resocialization of sport.

*Is contact tracing a necessary component of successfully implementing resocialization of sport?

In order to efficiently and effectively respond to a new infection, athletics departments, in conjunction with the member school and local public health department, should evaluate how best to identify contact networks and trace contact interactions for staff and student-athletes. There are various ways to accomplish this including, among other concepts, the identification of contact "bubbles." The "inner bubble" for each individual would include the applicable staff member or student-athlete and those other individuals with whom they must interact with regular frequency and at an intimate level. The individual's "outer bubble" would include other people, like support staff and other campus personnel with whom the individual may have infrequent and non-intimate contact. The identification of the participants in each bubble network can facilitate contact tracing if an individual becomes newly infected and can help the school and applicable authorities prioritize the removal, isolation, and quarantine of other at-risk individuals. 

*The Action Plan describes universal masking as one of the strategies to mitigate COVID-19 spread. Does this apply indefinitely? What type of mask is recommended?

Universal masking generally means all individuals wear masks when they are in public spaces, especially indoors or when physical distancing is not possible. Wearing masks and enhanced infection control principles applies indefinitely in Phase Three; in other words, Phase Three is not a return to pre-COVID practices, but rather reflects the fact that the SARS-CoV-2 virus remains a threat because a vaccine or effective treatment has not yet been developed. Universal masking applies to athletes, coaches and staff, but breaks down for athletes during practices and competition because of the impracticality of wearing masks during intense exercise. This is why surveillance and other infection control measures, as outlined in the Action Plan, remain important. 

The primary purpose of wearing a mask is to reduce viral spread to those with whom we have close contact. Cloth or surgical masks are acceptable. N-95 masks and other personal protective equipment are reserved for health care workers who are treating individuals with potential or actual COVID-19 infection. 

*For those colleges/universities that expect student-athletes will complete mandatory medical exams prior to returning to campus in the fall, what if  student-athletes cannot get exams because their personal physicians are not available to perform the exam?

This issue has been considered by the Prevention & Performance Subcommittee of the NCAA Committee on Competitive Safeguards and Medical Aspects of Sports. The subcommittee has been charged to provide timely input on emerging health and safety related questions arising from the COVID-19 pandemic and includes several practicing physicians.

The subcommittee noted that while the delivery of health care has undoubtedly changed with the advent of COVID-19, general access to health care and the number of available practicing physicians and nurse practitioners has not. For the great majority of individuals, necessary care appointments are still available and very accessible. The subcommittee noted that most mandatory medical exams are conducted before student-athletes return to campus and are scheduled within 2 to 4 weeks before return. Therefore, student-athletes should not have difficulty scheduling and completing an appointment with a physician or appropriately licensed nurse practitioner over the summer months.

For those student-athletes who are not able to complete an exam before arriving to campus, schools will need to address the requirement once the student arrives. In most cases, this should not create an unreasonable burden on resources, and in fact, many schools have always required that mandatory medical exams be conducted on campus. So, while there would be no change in process for these schools as a result of COVID-19, schools should give operational attention to this issue and begin planning accordingly.

*What about team travel?

Consistent with the Federal Guidelines, the Core Principles document contemplates non-essential travel as one of the activities that would resume in phases. While the Federal Guidelines contemplate that non-essential travel might resume in Phase Two, that guidance is geared toward individual travel and does not contemplate the COVID-related complexities related to large group team travel. Assuming a school has otherwise accounted for and adequately addressed these complexities, it is reasonable to conclude that the Core Principles document would contemplate team travel could resume as part of Phase Three but we anticipate that this question will be addressed in more detail in the future as we develop both a better understanding of COVID-19 and the travel industry's response to infection control.

Section III: Playing and Practice Seasons Issues

Is the current calendar for fall championship events still in place?

The working assumption of sport resocialization is that the current dates for fall championship events remain in place as scheduled, although governance committees, conferences and related staff working groups within each division continue to evaluate potential adjustments to practice and regular season competition schedules.

*Since we are working with the current fall championship calendar, what considerations are being given to possible modifications in summer practice, preseason and the playing season?

At the time of this writing, the Division I Council has established that student-athletes may voluntarily return to campus on June 1, 2020. The Council also adopted temporary legislation to prohibit a school from conducting required summer athletics activities (pursuant to NCAA Division I Bylaws 13.11.3.9, 13.11.3.10 and 17.1.7.2.2.5) in basketball and football through June 30. 

In making both decisions, the Council established that the primacy of student-athlete health and safety in any decisions related to such issues is paramount. Access to institutional facilities should be provided in compliance with applicable state and local regulations regarding the use of such facilitates, group size restrictions and any other articulated limitations. Each school should use its discretion to make the best decisions for its student-athletes within the applicable restrictions and parameters.  

Deliberations continue in all three divisions about the playing season calendar for all fall sports.

How is a determination for "safe competition" made?

The specific path to "safe competition" will vary from campus to campus, depending on geographic, demographic and other risk considerations that are unique to each institution, campus, community and student body. A successfully implemented phased-in strategy, like the one outlined in the Core Principles document, is one indication that competition may be able to occur safely. However, our understanding of COVID-19 is increasing rapidly, and we anticipate that emerging data and information will allow us to more fully address this question in the future. This could possibly include an adjustment or cancellation of events in response to local or national circumstances.

*If student-athletes are restricted from participating in required summer activities on campus because of COVID-19, can student-athletes safely participate in virtual workouts with strength and conditioning coaches?

This question was considered by the Prevention and Performance Subcommittee of the NCAA Committee on Competitive Safeguards and Medical Aspects of Sports. Assuming that a workout is truly voluntary (both in perception and legislatively), the subcommittee identified a potential health and safety benefit related to providing flexibility for strength and conditioning coaches to observe certain aspects of virtual workouts, especially where the observation or specific health and safety feedback (e.g., proper form) has been requested, unsolicited, by the student-athlete. This feedback has been shared with the NCAA's Academic and Membership Affairs group so as to inform future interpretive actions on these questions. It has also been shared with membership bodies in each of the three governance divisions for future consideration.

In response, the Division I Council Coordination Committee determined that a strength and conditioning coach may, beginning June 1, 2020, virtually observe a student-athlete’s voluntary workouts for health and safety purposes (e.g., proper form, technique) and have discussions with the student-athlete related to such workouts, provided the student-athlete initiates the request for the observation and/or discussion. A strength and conditioning coach is not be permitted to conduct the virtual workouts. The Coordination Committee encourages the continued review of possible scenarios in which a voluntary workout could be conducted by a strength and conditioning coach. The Coordination Committee noted that, consistent with feedback from the Prevention and Performance Subcommittee, a school that elects to permit strength and conditioning coaches to virtually observe student-athlete workouts should proactively take into consideration its overarching responsibility to protect the health of, and provide a safe environment for, each student-athlete. Each school should also proactively address how the strength and conditioning coach would respond in the event that an unsafe workout environment is observed or in the event that a medical emergency occurs during the observational session.

With respect to required and/or school-conducted virtual physical athletically related activities, the subcommittee identified that the health and safety risks would be no different than they are for on-campus workouts such that if all existing health and safety requirements are met, there would be no student-athlete well-being rationale for prohibiting these types of activities. However, the subcommittee acknowledged that it would be challenging, but not necessarily impossible, for a school to adequately address all existing health and safety precautions via a virtual model, and that the challenge would vary depending on the workout model being used (e.g., one or two athletes versus large groups or entire teams). For example, Division I legislation requires the presence of first aid/AED/CPR-certified personnel during all physical, countable athletically related activities. Additionally, Association-wide catastrophic injury prevention materials provide that workout plans should be prepared in advance, documented and should account for various health and safety considerations including a workout location designed to accommodate venue-specific emergency action planning and that a school should have emergency action plans that account for, among other things:

  • Fast access to AED technology.
  • Specifics related to the venue, sport and circumstances which, for virtual workouts, would vary further by student-athlete circumstance.
  • A wide variety of risks including, among others, head and neck injuries, cardiac arrest, exertional heat illness and heat stroke, exertional rhabdomyolysis, asthma, exertional collapse associated with sickle cell trait and diabetic emergency.