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Michigan State Football: COVID Testing, Return to Workouts, Player Demands, & Other News

Today is anything but a slow news day. I have a long rundown on news items out today, in addition to the updated schedule release and player opt-out from this morning.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: DEC 27 Pinstripe Bowl - Michigan State v Wake Forest Photo by Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Big Ten COVID-19 Testing Protocols

Last week you might recall I reported on the Big Ten announcing they would release the guidelines for COVID-19 medical protocols within the next five days. That was released this morning along with the schedule. Obviously the actual guidelines sent to athletic departments were more detailed than the public statement, but there are a few noteworthy items.

Heavier contact sports such as football will require a minimum of two polymerase chain reaction (PCR) surveillance tests per week. Other sports will require at least one. While PCR testing is the current method, they will evaluate alternative tests if any become available. Testing will also be managed by a third-party laboratory to ensure uniformity and consistency across the conference.

The Big Ten reiterated their previous policy that any student-athlete who elects to forgo the season through the 2020-2021 academic year due to COVID-19 will have their scholarship honored by their institution and remain in good standing with their athletic team. Jacub Panasiuk has already elected shortly after the announcement to take advantage of that measure.

You can read the full release here or follow the Twitter embed.

Some of the other guidelines released in fuller detail include:

  • Person under investigation (PUI): Isolate individual with suspected infection, notify the appropriate team personnel, and refer to a medical professional for evaluation and management. If testing subsequently reveals the individual is positive for the virus, close contacts are required to be immediately quarantined and the individual placed in isolation.
  • Pre-competition patient PUI or confirmed case: For cases that arise after pre-competition testing but before competition begins, the individual is required to be promptly isolated and contact traced. If testing subsequently reveals the individual is positive for the virus, close contacts are required to be immediately quarantined prior to competition and the individual placed in isolation.
  • In-competition PUI: For cases that arise during competition, the individual needs to be promptly isolated, and that information is required to be shared with the current opponent to aid in decisions about how to proceed with that competition. If testing subsequently reveals the individual is positive for the virus, close contacts are required to be immediately quarantined and the individual placed in isolation.
  • Post-competition PUI or confirmed case: For confirmed cases that arise after competition is completed, the individual is required to be promptly isolated and contact traced to quarantine close contacts. Information is required to be shared with the previous week’s opponent, if applicable, to facilitate contact tracing at the opponent’s institution.
  • A confirmed asymptomatic infection: Required isolation for at least 10 days from the positive test (20 days if severely immunocompromised according to CDC criteria). They must be cleared by team physician prior to return.
  • A confirmed symptomatic infection: Infected individuals with mild to moderate illnesses who are not severely immunocompromised must be isolated for at least 10 days from onset of symptoms and at least one day (24 hours) has passed since recovery, defined as resolution of fever without the use of fever-reducing medications and improvement of respiratory symptoms (e.g., cough, shortness of breath) in accordance with current CDC guidance. For severe illnesses or severely immunocompromised individuals regardless of illness severity, the isolation period should be extended to 20 days from the onset of symptoms and at least one day (24 hours) since recovery.

You can find the full list of guidelines here.

Commissioner Warren Hints Season Unlikely

Even as the conference was unveiling the updated 2020 football schedule, Commissioner Kevin Warren was reminding fans that the season is still very much up in the air as far as its chance of occurring. In his interview with the Big Ten Network he refused to give a firm number when pressed for how likely the season is to occur. Instead he had the following to say on the matter:

“It would be purely speculationf or me to sit here today and say, ‘This is what percent we will have a season’ . . . There’s no guarantee we’ll have fall sports or a football season.”

Instead the Big Ten tried to provide as much flexibility for the conference and individual teams by staggering mid-season bye weeks in a manner that the season can start late and games can be pushed back if anything comes up. Similarly so can the end of the season as well with the conference championship game being able to be pushed back. However, should all of the protocols prove insufficient to keep players safe and limit the risk of spread greatly enough then it is clear the plug will get pulled fast.

Players Form Demands List

Unlike the PAC-12 player demands, the Big Ten had over 1,000 football players come together via Catholic Athlete Unity (CAU) to present a list of demands of the Big Ten and the NCAA which primarily focuses on COVID specific issues. The full list is:

Oversight and Transparency

  • Third-party, approved by players, to administer COVID testing and to enforce all COVID-19 health and safety standards
  • Sufficient penalties for noncompliance
  • Mandate for athletics personnel to report suspected violations

Prevention and Safety Protocols

  • Ensure all athletes have up-to-date information about the risks that COVID-19 may pose to their personal health, the health of their families and the health of their communities
  • Adherence to WHO and CDC guidance for sporting events and compliance with all federal, state, and local statutes and regulations
  • Safety standards that are appropriate for each sport
  • Social distancing requirements and mandatory mask-wearing in and around athletic facilities by coaches, staff, players, vendors, press, and visitors
  • Minimum cleaning and sanitation protocols for all uniforms, equipment, and athletic facilities, including visitor locker rooms
  • Temperature checks for anyone entering any athletic facility

Testing, Contact Tracing and Related Procedures

  • Contact-tracing protocols for anyone who comes into contact with college athletes and team personnel who test positive
  • Testing of everyone who comes into contact with college athletes, including coaches, trainers, medical staff, nutrition staff, referees, media, etc.
  • In-season testing of all of the above three days per week
  • Testing twice per week with an FDA-approved test with less than one percent false negatives
  • Additionally, testing on the day of competition (or within 24 hours of competition for each team that can be quarantined) with an FDA-approved test with less than five percent false negatives, with results delivered at least two hours before competition
  • Immediate quarantine of any person who tests positive or exhibits symptoms
  • Quarantine rules for college athletes who test positive, and protocols for their return to practice and competition
  • Objective criteria for shutting down seasons should the pandemic take a turn for the worse or if teams experience significant outbreaks

Player Assurances

  • Whistle-blower protections for athletics personnel and college athletes reporting a suspected violation
  • Ban the use of COVID-19 liability waivers
  • Automatic medical redshirt for any player who misses any competitions due to a positive test or a mandatory quarantine due to contact tracing
  • Preserve athletic eligibility, scholarship, and roster spot for any player who opts out of athletic participation or is unable to play more than 40 percent of their scheduled season due to COVID-19 or season postponement/cancellation
  • Complimentary access to the Big Ten Network for athletes’ family members

Hazard-Related Economic Support

  • Coverage for all out-of-pocket medical expenses related to COVID-19 (both short-term and long-term) incurred by active college athletes
  • Scholarship protections (including room, board and stipend) in the event that the season is canceled due to COVID-19
  • An adjustment to the cost-of-living stipend to account for the increase in personal expenses related to limited access that players have to facilities
  • Reimbursement for stipends that were reduced during the summer

Overall it seems a well-articulated and entirely reasonable series of requests. There are some that are already incorporated by the Big Ten guidelines such as independent third-party testing. However, other differences emerge such as the request for at least three tests per week.

Michigan State Resumes Workouts

The Spartans ended their team wide quarantine today and resumed practices. The team had implemented a quarantine since July 24, pausing all voluntary team workouts after multiple positive COVID-19 surveillance tests among student-athletes and staff. MSU was initially scheduled to being fall camp this Friday, August 7 and Commissioner Warren confirmed on BTN this morning that all conference teams will move forward with that plan.

MSU Officials Warn Against Return To Campus

In an email sent to students on Monday, President Stanley asked students to consider not returning to campus after all if they are able to do so.

“If you can live safely and study successfully at home, we encourage you to consider that option for the fall semester. The vast majority of first-year students this fall will have course schedules that are completely online. Living away from campus may be the best choice for you and your family, particularly if you have family members at higher health risk . . . You should make your choice based on what is the safest and best place for you to live and learn. We know many students consider MSU their home and don’t have another appropriate living space . . . [and] MSU will continue to accommodate all students who need a safe place to live.”

As of now, Michigan State is the only public university to make such a request of students. Across the Big Ten, a quick look at other schools (though not exhaustive of all 14) suggests MSU is the first to make the request as well. Though, while Maryland plans to have campus open this fall, it is of note that all nearby Washington, D.C. colleges and universities have already announced they will be online only this fall and have limited housing, if any, for students.