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Michigan State Athletic Director Bill Beekman, medical staff, address student-athletes’ return to campus

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Courtesy of @MSU_Football Twitter account

As reported earlier, Michigan State University will allow student athletes to return to campus for voluntary workouts on June 15. This of course, comes with several strict safety protocols, testing and constant screening of students and staff and best practices to follow, among other health initiatives as COVID-19 still provides a serious threat. This is a big step forward for the Michigan State Spartans.

Speaking on a Zoom call to the media earlier this afternoon, Michigan State Athletic Director Bill Beekman — along with Assistant Vice President for Health Services/MSU Health Care Chief Clinical and Medical Officer/Interim Director of Athletic Medicine Dr. Anthony Avellino; Director of Sports Medicine and Performance/Primary Care Team Physician Dr. Jeffrey Kovan; and Head athletic Trainer Dr. Sally Nogle — spoke in more detail about MSU’s plan to safely return student athletes and staff to campus.

The Only Colors was able to participate in this call.

Prior to getting into the aforementioned topic, Beekman opened with a statement about the current social injustice and racial inequality issues that are currently taking place in our country.

“On Monday I sent a letter to our student athletes, sharing my thoughts on recent examples of violence against black Americans. In that letter I expressed the many emotions that I felt over the last week — sadness, shock, anger, outrage. I especially wanted to make clear to our students that we in athletics are here to support them and hear them and that I am personally here to support them and hear them. That their views and ideas are important, and that we all grow when they share their thoughts and perspectives with our community. That our campus will be a safe place for them to continue learn and grown. And that diversity and inclusion aren’t things we do, but who we are.”

Beekman then said the university plans to hire a Chief Diversity Officer for the athletics department, and is developing a thoroughly revised educational series focused on race to help educate those within the athletics department. Beekman also said several diversity work groups compiled of former students, athletes, coaches are being created.

Moving on to the topic of bringing students back to campus, Beekman had this to say:

“Those of you who know me, know that our highest priority is and always will be health, safety and wellness. I’m confident that what you’ll hear about today was designed with the best interest of each and every student athlete at its core. I’m excited about the work that our medical team has done and the protocols they’ve put in place. In addition to the medical team, our facilities team, our compliance team and many others behind the scenes have worked incredibly hard, while doing so remotely, to make sure everything is set up for our student athletes’ safe return. Very proud that the team has really rallied together to pull this off.

“Student athletes are the lifeblood of our athletics department. As we make decisions for the future, especially in these uncertain economic times, we evaluate them based on how they will affect student athletes. To start to bring student athletes back to campus will provide a boost of energy to (the athletes), but also to many, many others in our department.

“Finally, I want to be clear about one thing. While we’re providing for a safe return for all student athletes, it’s important to remember that all workouts in the month of June are strictly voluntary. That’s a message that’s been shared widely and reiterated within our programs. When we meet with students and their parents, we’ll emphasis that point (to them).”

Assistant Vice President for Health Services/MSU Health Care Chief Clinical and Medical Officer/Interim Director of Athletic Medicine Dr. Anthony Avellino:

Here is Dr. Anthony Avellino’s thoughts on the matter:

“The health, safety and wellness of our students is of the utmost importance. Over the past few months, we have closely followed safety guidelines from the State of Michigan Department of Human and Health Services, the CDC, our on-campus (medical) professionals, the Big Ten Conference and the NCAA. We’ve put certain policies and protocols in place with the goal of maintaining a safe environment for our student athletes, coaches and staff.”

Dr. Avellino then spoke about MSU’s three “safety themes,” which are testing, screening and prevention. This means, MSU has established a testing center to ensure all staff, coaches and student athletes are able to obtain the COVID-19 test. Second, MSU will screen all of its student athletes, coaches and staff for symptoms before they can enter facilities, which includes taking their temperatures. Third, MSU has instituted preventative measures, such as requiring everyone to wear a mask (except while working out), ensuring social distancing with floor markings, signage and physical barriers, hand-washing requirements, surface sanitizing procedures, educations on COVID-19 symptoms and how to stop the virus from spreading, and more.

“Our team is committed to the health, wellness and safety of our student athletes, coaches and staff,” Dr. Avellino said. “As we roll out these policies and procedures, we will learn, and these policies and procedures will evolve so that we have the utmost safety procedures in place.”

Director of Sports Medicine and Performance/Primary Care Team Physician Dr. Jeffrey Kovan:

Dr. Jeffrey Kovan explained the process:

“It’s been months now of preparation, conversations and meetings, and the task force that put together this return to campus plan is really over 30 to 40 members of the athletic department, and it includes everything from housing to facilities to janitorial service to athletic training and academics staff. So it’s been a pretty diverse of administration and medical staff to really create the safest environment for athletes that we can.”

Dr. Kovan then talked about how he feels fortunate to be in the Big Ten Conference, where the relationships between the sports medicine and athletic training staffs across the conference are incredibly strong on the healthcare front. Dr. Kovan and Dr. Nogle meet weekly with fellow representatives from across the conference, both in athletic training and sports medicine departments. This has allowed the representatives to pick each other’s brains about what each campus is doing and why those decisions have been made.

“While some timelines have been different, everybody’s been consistent with the idea of a lot education and communication, and that the essential component is testing and tracing when we have positive findings — and we will have positive testing, you’ve seen that already across the country with schools that have started the process of volunteer workouts,” Dr. Kovan said. “So, as we move into that phase of not only how do we make sure our student athletes are safe and taken care of, we have to make sure their parents feel comfortable that they’re in a safe environment, and we know this continues to evolve. ”We have to be ready and willing to make those changes to what’s most current, what the CDC recommendations are, what our fellow schools in the conference are doing and most importantly what President (Stanley) and and our athletic director (Beekman) recommend from all of us.”

Dr. Kovan then went on to say they’re excited about getting the athletes back to campus. He also said the reason to bring them back is primarily focused on their safety, their conditioning and hopefully limiting potential injuries. He said it is important for the athletes to take responsibility and do their part.

Head Athletic Trainer Dr. Sally Nogle added this:

“Working with Mr. Beekman and those in our department, and the medical team to get this ready, our athletic training staff feels that we are ready to welcome back the athletes to return to workouts. Those who are willing to come back and want to come back right now, we feel like we are ready for them.”

Other Notes:

  • Beekman made it clear that while health and safety are the biggest priorities, and while things are fluid and it’s impossible to predict the future right now, that he expects the season to start on time, which means playing Northwestern in Spartan Stadium in Week One.
  • Beekman noted that he’s been working with fellow Big Ten athletic directors, as well as Big Ten Commissioner Kevin Warren, on plans for returning to campus:
  • Additionally, Beekman was unaware of any student athletes or coaches who have tested positive for COVID-19, but clarified that since the students have been at home, and not often in contact with him, he was not sure. Dr. Kovan corrected Beekman and said that one student athlete did, in fact, test positive for COVID-19, however he was asymptomatic throughout the process and tested negative two weeks later.
  • Beekman said that all options have been discussed and explored for a safe return to football, which includes a conference-only season, or otherwise shortened season, but the goal remains normalcy and to play a full schedule. He also noted that much of those decisions could be made by state governments, which would be out of the control of the athletics departments.
  • Another topic of discussion that of course came up was whether or not we can expect fans in the stands. Again, things can change, but as of right now Beekman expects to be able to fill 20 to 30 percent of Spartan Stadium’s capacity with many safety protocols and procedures in place.
  • Naturally, the questions of who gets priority on tickets followed. Beekman broke it down this way:
  • While coaches aren’t allowed to be with players during voluntary workouts, strength and conditioning coaches will wear personal protective equipment and work under the same protocols as the athletes.
  • While more people will now be allowed on campus, MSU is going to take a slow, phased approach. Coaches of fall sports will return sooner than coaches of the winter or spring sports.
  • The MSU representatives also said they plan to talk to the student athletes about why it’s important to stay on campus and why it’s important not to venture out in the community, however, they will not restrict them from going home and will look at travel on a case-by-case basis.
  • MSU will have meetings with both student athletes and their parents, and if anybody doesn’t feel comfortable practicing or playing, MSU will honor and respect that, and is not forcing anybody to come to campus. Beekman also said those who choose not to follow the procedures and protocols will not be able to participate.
  • MSU will limit groups who train together. That way if an athlete/coach/staff member tests positive, the intent is to be able to isolate that individual group, as opposed to the whole team.