Syracuse University unveiled plans Tuesday night to allow athletes preparing for a competitive fall schedule to return to campus for voluntary workouts beginning next Monday.
The first athletes expected to return to the campus since facilities were closed in mid-March due to COVID-19 are SU football players, and the team’s first mandatory practice is scheduled for the Aug. 5 open of regular training camp.
All SU Division I fall sports teams are permitted to bring players back to campus on a voluntary basis next Monday under new protocol that will be implemented to “protect and safeguard the well-being of student-athletes, coaches, staff and members of the broader community,” according to a press release available on the SU athletics web site.
The NCAA recently approved voluntary workouts at on-campus facilities while releasing recommendations based on advice from federal health authorities, but SU’s announcement stated that it has developed its own operational plan with guidance provided by public and government health officials.
Limited number of staff and faculty members started returning to the SU campus Wednesday as part of a phased re-opening, and the voluntary return of athletes is expected to help the university assess procedures for the possible restart of on-campus courses this fall.
“We are committed to partnering with health experts and complying with (county and state) public health policies,” SU athletic director John Wildhack stated in the announcement. “We are confident that we can minimize risk of viral transmission among staff and student-athletes while at the same time restoring some sense of normalcy to our training and preparation schedule. We believe that if we are cautious and diligent, and we care for each other, we will be able to keep our student-athletes safe during the summer months and prepare them physically and mentally for top performance.”
The SU athletics plan consists of several components that include testing and isolation, workouts organized into smaller pod groups before gradually working toward full-team interaction later this summer, social distance guidelines, and strict sanitation practices throughout all training facilities.
The department has also appointed senior deputy director of athletics, Herman Frazier, to the position of infection control officer — ICO — and he will serve as the first point of contact for any SU athlete or athletics staff member who develop symptoms or believe they may have been exposed to COVID-19.
“The health, safety, and well-being of our student-athletes, our staff, and the campus and central New York communities is my top priority — period,” SU football coach Dino Babers stated in the release.
“We will be rigorous in the testing and monitoring of our student-athletes, and my staff and I will be working diligently to educate our team on prevention and detection,” Babers added. “We all have a part to play in keeping our community safe and that’s a responsibility I take seriously, my players know what is expected of them and I will hold them accountable.”
According to SU’s operational plan, athletes will be tested upon their return next week and isolated until a negative test result is achieved, a period that could last up to two weeks.
Players will then be placed into small pods based on initial housing assignments, which will consist of a maximum of 10 players to begin the first phase of training. Athletes will only be allowed contact with members of their pod, including assigned staff members. The pod sizes will expand during the second and third phase of the plan — up to 30 players and then to full team workouts — and the second phase is expected to commence in July.
Social distance guidelines will be enforced at all team training sites and masks are expected to be worn by those on site, except for the athletes that are working out. All shared equipment will be cleaned and sanitized before and after use by each player.
In his role as ICO, Frazier will also ensure all screening practices and sanitation protocols are being followed. Screening for players will include daily temperature checks and blood oxygen level testing.
“There is a strict screening protocol in place to protect our teams and all those who work with them,” Frazier said in the SU statement. “Employees will be encouraged to take their temperature at home routinely prior to arrival at the training facility. Daily screening for all employees reporting to work — as well as visitors, contractors and service providers who enter the building — will include questions related to close contacts and early symptoms of infection.”
Earlier this week, Wildhack sent a letter to season-ticket holders of SU football along with men’s and women’s basketball stating that the school expected a reduced capacity of some form for football games this fall at the Carrier Dome and to expect more details to follow.
The football team paused its season ticket upgrade and parking processes until a firm plan is in place, and the letter stated that it was too early to tell how potential changes might impact the basketball campaigns that are slated to begin in October. SU athletics plans to study facility plans from industry leaders like the NFL and Disney before constructing attendance policies for the 2020-21 sports seasons.
The SU football team is scheduled to open the upcoming campaign Sept. 4 at Boston College and slated to host the first game in the renovated Carrier Dome Sept. 19 against Colgate.