Tuesday, September 22, 2020

The Next Normal: Student athletes return to campus with precautions

Editor’s note: This story is a part of a series that explores the lasting impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic and how things have changed on and off campus.

BYU student athletes returned to campus on June 1 for the first time since mid-March when the university suspended all athletic events and closed facilities.

In accordance with the NCAA guidelines, members of football team and men’s and women’s basketball teams were the first to return to voluntary workouts under the supervision of the athletic training staff and with strict precautions.

“We have worked closely with the university leadership, medical professionals, training staff and coaches to prepare a comprehensive plan for our student-athletes to begin participating in voluntary activities in select athletic facilities,” BYU director of athletics Tom Holmoe said. “The multiphase plan provides opportunities for our student-athletes to resume some of the workout routines typical of this time of year.”

Along with the much of the world, BYU athletics were put on hold earlier this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. On March 12, BYU suspended all athletic events indefinitely, and less than a week later on March 18, announced the closure of all training and workout facilities. This suspension was eventually extended multiple times in accordance with NCAA and state guidelines.

Now, almost three months later, things are slowly starting to get back to some semblance of normal — but not without changes. Specific protocols and guidelines from the State of Utah and BYU implemented in the reopening include passing electronic symptom checks, following physical distancing guidelines and using face coverings when social distancing is not possible.

BYU Basketball sophomore Connor Harding recently spoke with the Deseret News and described what it was like to be back in the gym under these special circumstances.

“It’s strange, for sure,” Harding told the Deseret News. “We have hand sanitizers all around the gym. We have to get our temperature checked. We have to go through a series of questions every single day to see if we have any symptoms and how we are feeling. Before going on the court and in the weight room, we have to spray everything. On the court, they clean everything that’s used. We only have a couple of people together at a time so we’re not all by each other.”

Because these workouts are voluntary, the coaching staff is not involved and much of the burden of organizing and executing falls on the athletes themselves. This, along with the requirement to physically distance, makes these workouts similar to what the student athletes experienced during months of quarantine. The “next normal” for college sports presents a far more independent, health-conscious and proactive student athlete base.

In a statement on reopening facilities, BYU Athletics said, “The main goal of the athletic department’s multiphase plan is to continue to promote the spiritual, social, intellectual and physical well-being of its student athletes as they train and prepare for future competitions.”

The NCAA and BYU Athletics also recognize that some student athletes won’t be able to return to campus or will not be comfortable, and have extended a blanket waiver to allow teams in football and basketball to require eight hours per week of virtual nonphysical activities through the end of June, at which point BYU Football spokesman Brett Pyne said, “We’ll see what July brings.”

With the start dates for college football camps and seasons still very much up in the air, fans and teams will have to get accustomed to the month-to-month and often week-to-week updates coming from the NCAA and BYU Athletic Department. The department recently announced that the annual BYU Football Media Day that is usually held at the BYU Broadcasting Building in late June has been pushed back to July and will be entirely virtual.

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