UCF Athletics announced it is expecting 60 members of the UCF football team to return to campus starting next week.
Two additional phases of student-athletes from the football team are expected to return to campus — one phase of about 20 individuals later in June, and a third phase at an undetermined date after that, UCF Athletics said in the Friday news release.
The phased approach will be the first organized group to return to campus since student-athletes were strongly encouraged to return to their homes by March 18 due to the coronavirus pandemic. All organized practices and volunteer workouts were suspended by the university on March 17.
“Certainly health and safety are our number-one priorities and are at the core of every element involved as we take the first step forward in terms of a return to college athletics,” UCF Director of Athletics Danny White said. “While at the same time being ever mindful of the challenges posed by COVID-19.”
The NCAA Division I Council voted on May 20 to allow student-athletes to participate in voluntary athletic activities initiated by student-athletes beginning June 1.
White said the show of approval from the NCAA Council for voluntary athletics activities is encouraging — he said it is an indication the experts behind the NCAA Council’s vote believe it is prudent and appropriate to move forward in phases.
UCF will test all returning student-athletes, coaches and personnel for COVID-19
“In addition to all returning student-athletes, testing for COVID-19 also will be required and conducted for all University coaches and other personnel who will regularly interact and come into contact with student-athletes,” the release states.
Knight News reached out to UCF Athletics to ask how frequently individuals will be tested and more information about protocols and procedures within the American Athletic Conference.
John Heisler, UCF senior associate athletics director, said in a Friday email to Knight News the situation is being developed and monitored — no discussion of a COVID-19 testing plan.
“Our doctors will monitor and evaluate as necessary throughout the next few weeks and make recommendations as needed,” Heisler said.
The first week back will be for testing, orientation and learning a new normal.
“All returning student-athletes will take part in an initial week of re-orientation that will include COVID-19 testing at UCF through a specialized Orlando Health mobile testing team and extensive physical examinations,” the release reads.
UCF Athletics said student-athletes will participate in educational sessions designed to ensure the behaviors required to maintain team safety and health are understood.
Facemasks in common areas within UCF Athletics facilities will be required.
“All student-athletes, coaches and staff will be provided multiple facemasks and will be required to wear them in all common areas within UCF Athletics facilities,” the release states.
UCF Athletics said workout apparel will be cleaned daily, and each individual will be provided a personal water bottle that will be returned daily to be sanitized.
Orientations are required before small group activities begin — virtual meetings will continue, facilities can only be used by small groups and wellness check stations will be implemented.
“Student-athletes will utilize multiple strength and conditioning facilities in small groups to minimize cross-contamination,” the release states. “Use of strength areas will not begin until after the week-long administrative re-orientation is completed.”
All team meetings will continue to be held virtually. The release states wellness check stations, with hand sanitizers and temperature checks, will be created at single entrance points for all facilities utilized by student-athletes and staff.
Additional cleaning policies and procedures have been implemented — nightly cleanings, and “deep cleanings” multiple times per week will occur.
UCF Athletics said additional policies and procedures already have been implemented to ensure that all areas and equipment utilized by student-athletes are cleaned thoroughly after each usage and at additional times during the day.
The release states athletics facilities staff will additionally clean at night, and conduct multiple “deep cleanings” per week following the guidelines of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and recommendations of Orlando Health.
“About two-thirds of the football student-athletes returning to Orlando for voluntary summer workouts will be housed in University residence halls,” the release states.
UCF’s 2020-2021 roster currently lists 90 individuals.
The remainder — or about 30 individuals — will live off-campus, the release states.
In an email to Knight News, Heisler confirmed these individuals previously had housing arrangements off campus and are not being moved off campus for social distancing measures or pandemic-related reasons.
UCF Athletics said there are additional plans in place in case isolation or quarantine is required.
The release states all student-athletes will have access to Dr. Michael Jablonski, UCF’s head team physician.
Jablonski, medical director for UCF Athletics and president of Jewett Orthopaedic Clinic, said UCF Athletics is working closely with Orlando Health to implement a plan that quickly brings student-athletes back to campus as safely as possible.
The release states Jablonski will liaison with Orlando Health specialists in public health and infectious disease for all medical needs.
UCF Director of Sports Medicine Mary Vander Heiden — who serves as the football team’s head athletic trainer and UCF’s representative on the the American Athletic Conference’s COVID-19 Medical Advisory Group — will assist Jablonski in addressing any medical concerns, the release states.
“We are confident we are taking the appropriate measures to enable our returning student-athletes to feel confident in the healthy environment in which they will exist once they come back to UCF,” Vander Heiden said.
The AAC announced its formation of a COVID-19 Medical Advisory Group on May 20.
“There’s a fine line to be walked in terms of providing the return to sport programs within a more intense health regimen,” Vander Heiden said. “We feel the protocols we have put in place will allow us to accomplish all of that.”
Men’s and Women’s Basketball, Other Student-Athletes
UCF Athletics said some student-athletes from the men’s and women’s basketball teams are expected to return later in June.
“The rest of the student-athlete population could possibly return in July for volunteer workouts depending on health conditions and related logistics,” the release states.