A “return to normal” has been a desire, goal and popular phrase in society’s restart from the COVID-19 shutdown.
Some athletes will be back on campus at Ole Miss and Mississippi State on Monday, an initial return that will be abbreviated and far from the normal that they knew.
SEC presidents voted last Friday to allow athletics facilities on their campuses to reopen June 8 for voluntary strength and conditioning workouts.
On Monday, Ole Miss will bring athletes inside the buildings for virus and antibody testing.
After the tests players will be released to their local residences. They’ll return Tuesday for education. They’ll learn safety procedures to keep from contracting and spreading the virus. They’ll learn new procedures for how to operate in the weight room. They’ll get a tour of facilities to see the reconfiguration that’s taken place such as, at Ole Miss, lockers that are now six feet a part.
“We’ll walk them through the building. They’ll see how it’s laid out; they’ll see all the signs, the markings on the floor, how the weight room is laid out in terms of how they have to spot people now,” said Shannon Singletary the senior associate AD for health and performance who chairs the school’s athletics reopening committee. “We’ll walk them through every phase of what summer workouts will look like.”
Ole Miss freshmen and newcomers will report July 15.
Both schools are planning their reopenings in accordance with guidelines set forth by federal, state and local governments and the NCAA as well.
While instruction from so many entities comes into play, Mary McLendon, the senior associate AD for sports medicine and performance, has still found ways to help Mississippi State craft a plan that best fits its own needs.
“Some things will feel we have to stay with. The university has done a great job of bringing the guidelines into what we’re doing, and when we follow those we know we’re going to be in compliance with the more strict regulations,” she said.
Wording in the NCAA’s resocialization guidelines leaves some wiggle room.
“They say (follow) this regulation unless you can have social distancing and do proper cleaning afterward. They’ve allowed some flexibility in those areas when they know different schools have different resources to basically make decisions off what we have and can safely do,” McLendon said.
Testing will be completed in phases with emphasis on football and other fall sports first. Results will be available in 24 hours.
At MSU, education will be a week-long process, McLendon said.
At Ole Miss, before athletes can report to campus they’ll answer a short series of questions for medical staff. If they answer “no” to a single question they’ll be referred to a local physician and will have to be released before being allowed to report.
The school has set aside some of its properties, such as a former married housing complex, to isolate athletes who may test positive after having been cleared for workouts.
Contact tracing would follow any positive test.
As isolation remains key in the fight against COVID many common areas, such as team meeting rooms, will be off limits.
The video team meetings on formats like Zoom, which many athletes and coaches have learned during the shutdown, at some places will become the norm.
MSU’s McLendon believes it’s possible that theatre-quality meeting rooms return down the line.
“At some point they probably will maybe with additional controls on them, modifications to how they’re used,” she said. “With the access that coaches have to players right now where it’s really (only) the strength coaches working with them, I think we can take care of the student-athletes in a very effective way that doesn’t involve using those rooms yet.”