The NCAA announced on Friday that it would allow all Division I sports to resume voluntary, in-person activities to resume on June 1. With conferences having taken a strong role during the coronavirus in organizing its schools for some semblance of a level playing field, however, in many cases it will still be up to those conferences to dictate when their member institutions can take advantage of the new NCAA order.
For the SEC, which includes 12 women’s swimming & diving programs and 10 men’s swimming & diving programs at its 14 institutions, these in-person activities can begin on June 8th.
Specifically, at the discretion of each university, “strength & conditioning activities that can be effectively monitored and performed while social distancing” will resume.
The SEC order also clarifies that strength & conditioning activities are also the limit under the NCAA order.
“The safe and healthy return of our student-athletes, coaches, administrators and our greater university communities have been and will continue to serve as our guiding principle as we navigate this complex and constantly-evolving situation,” said SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey. “At this time, we are preparing to begin the fall sports season as currently scheduled, and this limited resumption of voluntary athletic activities on June 8 is an important initial step in that process. Thanks to the blueprint established by our Task Force and the dedicated efforts of our universities and their athletics programs, we will be able to provide our student-athletes with far better health and wellness education, medical and psychological care and supervision than they would otherwise receive on their own while off campus or training at public facilities as states continue to reopen.”
As part of its recommendations, the Task Force prepared a series of best practices for screening, testing, monitoring, tracing, social distancing and maintaining cleaned environments. These recommendations will serve as a roadmap for each school prior to and upon the return of student-athletes to their campuses.
“While each institution will make its own decisions in creating defined plans to safely return student-athletes to activity, it is essential to employ a collaborative approach that involves input from public health officials, coaches, sports medicine staff, sports performance personnel and student-athletes,” Sankey said. “Elements of the Task Force recommendations provided key guidance for determining the date of the return to activity.”
In addition to standard infection prevention measures as approved by public health authorities such as facility cleaning and social distancing, recommended enhanced health and safety measures include:
- Enhanced education of all team members on health and wellness best practices, including but not limited to preventing the spread of COVID-19
- A 3-stage screening process that involves screening before student-athletes arrive on campus, within 72 hours of entering athletics facilities and on a daily basis upon resumption of athletics activities
- Testing of symptomatic team members (including all student-athletes, coaches, team support and other appropriate individuals)
- Immediate isolation of team members who are under investigation or diagnosed with COVID-19 followed by contact tracing, following CDC and local public health guidelines
- A transition period that allows student-athletes to gradually adapt to full training and sport activity following a period of inactivity
During the month of June, NCAA rules permit only strength and conditioning personnel to supervise athletics activities. Organized practices and other required physical activities remain prohibited in all sports.
What this means for swimming, which by its nature could be considered a ‘strength & conditioning’ activity, is not yet clear. One SEC coach told us that his school is interpreting swimming as a conditioning activity, but that in an early reaction to the rules, the school is planning to bring fall sports back to campus first (football, volleyball, soccer) to monitor the impact and shore-up safety protocols before opening up campus to winter or spring sport athletes.
Many swim programs have explored the possibility of using a club team loophole to get their athletes back together. With many NCAA coaches also serving as coaches with USA Swimming member clubs, it’s possible that they will be able to hold practices for their USA Swimming member clubs that were made up of their registered varsity athletes.
The SEC is the first of the Power 5 conferences to react to the NCAA decision, with none among the ACC, Big Ten, Big 12, or Pac-12 having yet announced a plan publicly. Generally, the states that hose institutions in the SEC have made more progress on reopening businesses, including pools, than have most of their peers.