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Big Ten unveils COVID protocols; group representing players wants more testing

Joey Kaufman
jkaufman@dispatch.com
Big Ten commissioner Kevin Warren.

Ohio State football players, along with others throughout the Big Ten, will undergo testing for the coronavirus at least twice per week in the coming season.

The measure was included among the health and safety protocols released by the conference in a five-page summary document Wednesday, outlining “minimum necessary requirements” for teams’ participation.

Coaches and staff members will also submit to the testing program, which will be run through a third-party laboratory.

“Testing is a critical component to the overall health and wellness and safety of our student-athletes, of our students on campus, and everyone in society,” Big Ten commissioner Kevin Warren said during an interview on the Big Ten Network. “It doesn’t solve all the issues. But our goal is, that if we’re so blessed to be able to compete this fall in the Big Ten, that our student-athletes will not only be healthy and safe during the week, but as we enter into competition.”

Almost as soon as they were released, the protocols drew criticism from an advocacy group known as College Athlete Unity, which said it represents the concerns of more than 1,000 football players across the conference.

The group called for enhanced safety precautions and greater oversight from the NCAA, which serves as the governing body of college sports.

“The NCAA — which is known for its zeal for regulations and enforcement — has had ample time to prepare for the safe return of its athletes to competition, yet it has done nothing,” read an essay that was published through The Players Tribune. “Its laissez-faire approach is forcing each conference and each school to create its own plan, resulting in inconsistent policies, procedures and protocols.”

The essay did not identify specific players, though Michigan defensive back Hunter Reynolds and Minnesota defensive back Benjamin St-Juste were listed as media contacts.

It mirrors a similar effort by players from the Pac-12 who put forth a list of demands this week, pushing for stricter health and safety protocols, a split of media revenues and a greater commitment to racial justice.

But the proposal from Big Ten players covered only COVID-19 safety standards.

Rather than being tested twice a week, the players called for testing three times a week, including within 24 hours of competition. They also want whistle-blower protection for athletes to report violations in protocols, penalties for noncompliance and an automatic redshirt for players who miss games due to a positive COVID-19 test or quarantine

They also raised the need for "objective criteria" for canceling the season if the coronavirus pandemic worsens in the U.S. or if teams are limited due to outbreaks of COVID-19.

Ohio State players returned to campus for workouts in early June and are scheduled to begin preseason training camp Friday.

Players have been tested for COVID-19 twice each week, Buckeyes offensive lineman Wyatt Davis said during a teleconference Tuesday.

The Big Ten's twice-a-week testing requirement covers periods of competition, not practices. Players are to undergo at least once per week during in-season practice periods.

Ohio State’s first game is scheduled for Sept. 3 against Illinois, part of the revised conference-only schedule released Wednesday.

Players are to undergo at least one COVID-19 test within three days of an upcoming game, mirroring guidelines from the NCAA that recommend athletes be tested no more than 72 hours before a game. Test results are to be shared between competing teams.

The conference said teams can undergo additional weekly testing.

Under the Big Ten’s protocols, players are required to isolate for at least 10 days after the day they tested positive, or as many as 20 days if they are considered immunocompromised.

Those who are in close contact with someone to test positive for COVID-19 are required to quarantine for 14 days, “without ability to test out of quarantine,” according to the summary document.

“Institutions may consider testing contacts during quarantine if the local testing supply is adequate; however, this does not shorten or remove the need for the 14-day quarantine period,” it stated.

In addition to testing, players are also required to answer symptom questionnaires before using team facilities and must undergo medical evaluation if symptoms are observed.

jkaufman@dispatch.com

@joeyrkaufman