We have all seen the numbers roll in like a tidal wave over the last few weeks. The Clemson football program has 23 players who have tested positive for the COVID-19 virus. Kansas State on Saturday confirmed that 14 student athletes have positive tests. The report does not distinguish how many are football players. Alabama had five soon after they returned to campus for workouts. Texas also had a handful. The University of Houston had enough, that they immediately shut down the workout and closed the campus again. UCLA football’s positive tests are a different story.
UCLA Football’s Positive Tests Will Not Be Released
Officials at UCLA acknowledge that they expect positive tests sometime after Fall sport athletes return to campus next week. The difference is you won’t hear them reported. During a press conference with UCLA’s medical and NCAA compliance task force, they acknowledged that while the school itself is likely to report raw numbers of positive tests, they will not be delineated in any way that shows positive results in the football program or in any other UCLA sport. Matt Elliott, Sr. Associate Athletic Director, confirmed, “At this time we do not believe there is a delineation of specific student-athletes separate from the campus’ overall reporting.
UCLA gathered a panel of five administrators from the NCAA compliance, medical, facilities, and operations for a press conference Saturday. The group went over the school’s plan to begin reintegrating Fall sport student athletes on Monday in light of the COVID-19 virus.
Task Force Lays Out Phases To Return
UCLA has a multi-step process to bring the student athletes back on to campus. The first is that there is a desire to keep the initial group in the first few days to those that have to travel less than 50 miles to get back to school. It makes for easier tracking of where they have been and what their exposure levels may be. Anyone who comes in via air travel from another city or state will automatically be put into a 14-day quarantine until the incubation period for the virus has come and gone.
All student-athletes returning will be immediately given a COVID-19 test, and the antibodies test. In the ensuing days they will be given a typical physical exam, as well as a mental health evaluation. The physical will help determine what sort of workouts they will be allowed to do, since off-season workouts have been very limited. They will be given what is being called a “functional movement screening” as well as an athletic performance screening.
Anyone with a positive COVID test goes immediately into isolation. The school, knowing that most of its Summer education is remote/on-line, has allocated enough dorm space that there will be no room sharing for anyone through this period. In the event of a positive test, certain areas have been designated as medical quarantine spaces. Head team physician, Dr. David McAllister acknowledged, “We do expect that we will some have positive test results and we do believe we do have a plan in place to address these.”
How many tests are given and at what frequency is still a moving topic, depending on initial results.
The school has also put contact tracing in place in the event of positive tests, so there is the ability to trace the origins of the positive results.
All student-athletes are going to be required to do a daily report on all of their activities. It will include whom they were in contact with during their workouts and any other non-workout related contact with people. The amount of people being allowed to work out in one given space will be 10. They will be required to wear face coverings at all times.
Monitoring The Progress
After the initial screening process is completed, anyone who is medically cleared, can begin their proscribed workouts, in what is deemed to be Phase II. All of these are fitness and training workouts. Phase III will be for those who remain medically cleared. It will increase the number of people allowed in given workouts and increase the exercises to athletic performance drills. Phase IV loosens the restrictions on people in one space and ramps up the workouts. These are all fitness and training workouts. There is no football work allowed during this time, as that requires NCAA time and plan clearance. The NCAA has tentatively allocated July 6th as the first day teams can start to do walk-throughs and have in-person team meetings. They must still be in accordance with individual state and municipal laws.
The panel stressed that any off-campus activities where they come in contact with people not currently in the protocol system will require the student-athlete to start back at the beginning of the testing and tracking phases.
The coaching staff is not allowed to monitor these “voluntary” workouts by NCAA rules, so the social distancing of the coaches and players is a given anyway. While the players are in the dorms, the coaches are allowed to continue with their eight hours per week of digital meetings with the team, per NCAA guidance. The staff, however, is required to go through the same protocols for testing and distancing.
The school has also set up what it calls the “Return to Training Anonymous Report.” It is a three-section report that allows a student-athlete to report concerns about their own medical conditions, those of others on the team, and any other virus-related concerns.
The Group Of 30
This came to the forefront Friday, when the LA Times reported that a group of 30 athletes had formed a committee to express concerns and address questions about the reintegration onto the campus. The story claimed that the players had expressed a vote of no-confidence in head coach Chip Kelly to look after their physical and medical well-being. A letter from the committee was sent to the UCLA task force. The letter leaked to the media.
Junior quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson quickly took to his social media pages when the article published. Thompson-Robinson sought to diffuse any idea that the team had no confidence in Kelly’s ability to handle the issues. The group wanted assurances on the housing situation, testing protocols, and the ability to speak anonymously with any concerns. They also asked for an outside entity to monitor the testing…someone not from within UCLA athletics. As of now, doctors from the UCLA Medical Center and health complex will serve as those independent monitors as needed.
Elliott was quick to point out that the task force was not caught off guard by the group of 30’s concerns. He said they had spoken to players via zoom meetings on Wednesday and Thursday. He said some of the written concerns had already been brought to the forefront at that time. “We have been having conversations with our student-athletes certainly going back to the beginning of this month about the return to training protocols. Yes, absolutely some of these questions were raised.” Elliott said the panel was deep into the process of addressing the concerns by the time the letter went public.
The indication from the panel was that the issue of housing came up this week in the Zoom meetings. Elliott says he is confident that is now addressed and secured. “One of the questions (this week) had been about housing. Student athletes had said, ‘Hey we want to see if you can address concerns about living in shared rooms and maybe that doesn’t make us feel comfortable about coming back.’ And Erin, (Adkins, Associate Athletic Director for Compliance), the football staff, the housing team, everybody worked diligently to respond to that this week and make sure student athletes felt good about those housing options.”
Elliott said part of the issue with the group of 30 and the letter was that the task force may not have communicated clearly enough to the student-athletes and their families previously to address concerns. New athletic director Martin Jarmond, members of the task force, and Kelly had a voluntary Zoom meeting with the football players Friday.
Learning From Others
UCLA is the ninth school in the Pac 12 Conference to open its campus for athlete workouts. And there are the aforementioned schools that opened quickly and had positive tests just as quickly. The opportunity would exist to learn from the mistakes of others in order to improve UCLA’s model. To this point, the task force says they have no individual’s test results, positive or negative, as no one has reported to campus yet.
Dr. McAllister has spoken to colleagues only within the conference. “I speak regularly with a group of physicians and infectious disease experts from around our conference. We are utilizing all the information from schools that have come before us to try to ensure that our program will minimize these risks as much as possible.” McCallister said the school was going into the plan with “an abundance of caution.”