While it does seem like there are brighter days ahead for collegiate sports and the prospects for improved global health in general, the COVID-19 pandemic continues to be a significant part of how policies are drawn up. It’s no different for the NCAA, as they released their guidelines for how fall sports in 2021 will move forward. Remaining healthy is always important for players with regards to avoiding knee injuries, shoulder ailments or foot maladies, and limiting their exposure to the virus will remain critical in the ensuing months.
The NCAA’s release of their strategy for the fall season largely centers around “Tier 1 individuals.” This includes players, coaches, athletic trainers, physical therapists, medical staff, equipment staff, and officials.”
As we have already seen in a few professional sports, there are inherent advantages that leagues are building into their COVID policies that benefit vaccinated individuals. The NCAA’s fall sports protocol is no different, as it allows for more relaxed policies for players, coaches and staff members who have been fully vaccinated. Fully vaccinated persons, or those who have been infected by COVID-19 in the last 90 days do not have to be tested when they return to campus, or during the course of the season, with a couple of exceptions. If a fully vaccinated individual is symptomatic, or has deemed to be a close contact of someone who has the virus, then they can be subject to testing.
The protocols for unvaccinated members of an athletic program are a bit more rigorous. They will need to take a PCR or two rapid antigen tests within three to five days of their arrival on campus, and will need to return negative before they will be allowed to participate with their team. During the season, they will be subject to weekly PCR testing or rapid antigen testing three times a week when there are no games scheduled. There are also rules regarding testing cadence when there are upcoming competitions.
However, the policy for both populations is uniform if an individual tests positive for the virus. Isolation for 10 days and a minimum of 24 hours having passed since fever and other symptoms have subsided.