Matt Campbell tells Cyclone virtual tailgaters Wednesday that he’s proud of the way his team has handled the pandemic.
Des Moines Register
Mark Coberly and his sports medicine staff spent the better part of a month planning how to bring student-athletes back to Iowa State safely amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
They tried to consider every angle, action and avenue that might serve as an issue or a remedy as they searched for solutions to dial down the risk of exposure to a virus that has killed nearly 100,000 Americans, shut down economies across the globe and imperiled college sports’ cash cow, football.
It’s a situation where facts are constantly changing and stakes are incredibly high.
“The list never ends. It just never ends,” said Coberly, ISU’s associate athletic director for sports medicine. “You get one area handled, and then you think, here’s another area we’ve got to look at.
“Overwhelming is the right word, but at the end of the day, those are the things we have to think about.”
Coberly and his staff, though, are doing their darndest to navigate the circumstances. They spent the better part of April game-planning on what mitigation strategies would be when student-athletes returned to Ames, and have spent the last three weeks in a pilot program with a small group of student-athletes rehabbing injuries at ISU facilities.
“A lot of times you think you might know what would work,” Coberly said, “but until you’ve actually done it, you don’t really know. Our fear was going to be if we can’t test anything at all and we have a bunch of people all come back at once, if that doesn’t work, we’ve got a lot of problems.
“We want to keep risks of infection to everybody at the very minimum because that’s the thing that will derail everybody.”
Without a vaccine, the name of the game is mitigation. Dialing down the risk as low as possible.
“College-aged athletes, the actual physical health risks aren’t extremely high for them,” Coberly said, “but some of the people they work with are extremely high (risk) and we have some athletes with underlying medical conditions that can be high (risk).
“That’s where it’s all about we’re in this as a team and it’s our job to think through as many things as we can to mitigate the risk as much as possible. That’s what we’re stepping through.”
The macro strategies ISU will employ are the ones that society at large as been employing over the last months. Social distancing as much as possible. Masks. Hand-washing. Extra custodial work.
That’s the easy stuff, the obvious issues. It’s the more granular actions that can make the process overwhelming.
It’s never-thought-of-before things like not sharing towels between players. How do football players’ gloves get disinfected? How do you handle hydration when you can’t share water bottles? What do you do with shared equipment – both on the field and in the weight room? How can coaches meet safely?
“The more we bring athletes in and start working with them,” Coberly said, “the more it reminds us of all these different little things we’ve taken for granted that we’ve got to review and have a procedure in place.”
It’s taken the planning process to some very unlikely places.
“We’ve met with our custodial people and our buildings and grounds people and started talking about cleaning of areas and what that looks like and how it’s being done,” Coberly said. “What chemicals are we using, do we need to treat our turf field – daily? Weekly? Hourly?
“What’s the risk of somebody playing on a turf surface? We don’t think it’s very high but it’s something we wanted to make sure we didn’t skip to address.”
That’s made the athletes across various sports who are in the facilities rehabbing something of guinea pigs in the service primarily of getting football – and its revenues – back.
“I might feel that way,” wrestler Ian Parker said, “but I’m not bothered by it at all.
“We’re all aware that most athletics depend on football so the quicker we can get them running, wrestling and other sports can get running. I’m ecstatic that I can help in that in any way.”
It’s a mission that is especially critical for Parker after he saw his chance at competing for a national title disappear in March when the NCAA canceled its championships due to the pandemic. So when wrestling trainer Tim Weesner told him about the opportunity to be part of the project after Parker underwent knee surgery, he jumped at it.
“I was ecstatic to come back,” the Big 12’s 141-pound champion said.
Before arriving at the Bergstrom Football Complex – rather than Lied Recreation where he typically would train – Parker fills out an online questionnaire that asks about his whereabouts over the previous 14 days and if he is experiencing a variety of symptoms.
“A huge list of all sorts of things,” Parker said, “and then they take your temperature as soon as you get in the door and have a mask for you if you didn’t bring a mask.”
Parker sees Weesner, but no other athletes while getting treatment as ISU keeps numbers to a minimum, which will perhaps be one of the larger challenges when something like over 100 football players arrive along with coaches and support staff in the dozens.
“We actually spend more time closer to each other than we think, than we realize,” Coberly said. “We’re having to consider what that looks like when we return people and bring them in with small groups in the weight room or conditioning.
“We know large group activities are not going to happen right away and they’re not recommended right away. What is that going to look like? We’re communicating pretty regularly with our strength coaches and our coaching staff.”
One of the biggest weapons in this fight, public health officials have stressed throughout the pandemic, is wide-spread testing. That, though, could be a challenge to implement in athletics in the near-term.
“Everyday testing is not going to happen,” Coberly said. “Athletics teams are not going to be testing regularly until regular testing is available to the public. The cost of testing is extremely high – that’s going to have to be factored in as well. I think the billion dollar question that’s out there and the NCAA has said it already, we’re going to have to have testing available to be able to safely return, but nobody has defined that yet of what that is because nobody knows.
“What does that look like? Today is going to be different than a month from now. I’m sure it is. So we’re all basically in the preparation mode to get everything we need in place from a resource standpoint and wait for those recommendations to come. I do believe one of our biggest challenges across the country is going to be testing availability and what tests are they?”
With all the preparation, thought and effort ISU is putting in to bringing athletes back to campus and keeping them safe while they’re there, Coberly is confident that ISU’s facilities will be incredibly safe for athletes and staff.
Athletes and staff, though, don’t spend 100 percent of their time within the confines of ISU facilities.
“What you’re doing outside of these walls is probably more important than what we’re doing inside of these walls,” Coberly said, “because that’s when the exposure is going to go up if you don’t practice these mitigation strategies. That’s what’s going to keep everybody else in the program safe as well.
“That’s going to be some pretty strong messaging to athletes all across the country. If they’re going to have a chance to have these seasons go, the biggest threat to the season is some team-wide infections where they have to shut some sports down. That’s going to be the biggest threat to success.”
That type of personal responsibility will just have to be an added cost to success.
“It’s not the conventional way of thinking,” Parker said, “but if you really have those high goals and you’re really devoted to them, this will just be another part of it like your diet and your social life at night and workouts.
“The social distancing will just be another part of that to mitigate outbreaks.”
The scope of planning for a pandemic is all-consuming. It is, simply, overwhelming.
It also might be doable.
“We have what we think are preliminary plans that we think go all the way up to when school starts,” Coberly said, “but those change literally daily based on what we’re learning.
“It’s a really daunting task. I do think it’s doable or we would tell everybody it wasn’t. We just have to make sure we’re doing as much as we can to mitigate.”
Source: Des Moines Register