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The NCAA just released new guidelines for college athletics—here's what schools are doing

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As new U.S. cases of Covid-19 continue to surge, colleges are preparing for students to return to campus this fall. According to most recent estimates from The Chronicle of Higher Education, 55% of colleges have planned for in-person classes and 30% are proposing a "hybrid model" in which some classes will be taught on campus. 

One part of on-campus life that schools are struggling to navigate is sports. 

On Thursday, the NCAA, the organization which regulates student-athletes, announced its latest guidelines for college sports in the era of Covid-19. 

The new guidelines, which are the third the organization has released about how college athletic departments should address the pandemic,, state that students should practice outside as much as possible, wear masks when they are on the sidelines and conduct daily "self-health checks." 

The NCAA appears to indicate that the latest restrictions have been influenced by the lack of a national testing program

"When the NCAA began discussions about return of sport after the cancellation of 2020 winter and spring championships, there was an expectation that such a return would take place within a context that assumed syndromic surveillance, national testing strategies and enhanced contact tracing," reads the statement. "Although testing and contact tracing infrastructure have expanded considerably, the variations in approach to reopening America for business and recreation have correlated with a considerable spike in cases in recent weeks. This requires that schools contemplate a holistic strategy that includes testing to return to sports with a high contact risk."

The guidelines also included the following chart: 

The latest guidance also mandates that student-athletes who are considered to be at high-risk of exposure to coronavirus (for instance if they have been in close contact with an infected person or have been in a large crowd) must quarantine for 14 days and that and all athletes who play high-contact sports must be tested for the virus within 72 hours before competing.

According to the NCAA, basketball, field hockey, football, ice hockey, lacrosse, rowing, rugby, soccer, squash, volleyball, water polo and wrestling qualify as high-contact sports. 

What schools are doing

College athletics programs across the country have taken a wide range of actions to address the coronavirus pandemic. 

The fall sports season typically begins in September, but many conferences have delayed the start of the season.

Some major football programs have begun pre-season practices and workouts, and many athletes have contracted coronavirus since. At Clemson University, at least 28 athletes tested positive for Covid-19 after returning to campus for practice.

Large athletics conferences such as the Pac-12 and the Big Ten have announced that they will still hold some games this fall, which means schools such as the University of California, Berkeley and the University of Michigan will be expected to follow the NCAA's guidelines. 

But these conferences have also announced they will be making adjustments and have canceled games against teams from other conferences

"Based upon the trends and indicators over the past days, it has become clear that we need to provide ourselves with maximum flexibility to schedule, and to delay any movement to the next phase of return-to-play activities," said Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott in a statement

And as cases of coronavirus rise, some athletic directors are increasingly skeptical that fall sports will continue throughout the year. 

"With each day where the country doesn't get a better handle on the pandemic, the risk to the fall season grows," Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick told the Wall Street Journal

Other schools have preemptively opted to suspend their academic programs. 

Prestigious private colleges such as Williams College and Bowdoin College have canceled their fall sports seasons and earlier this month, the Ivy League made a similar announcement. 

In a letter signed by the presidents of all eight Ivy League universities, the coalition of schools indicated that it was unsafe to proceed with the upcoming athletic season

"With the information available to us today regarding the continued spread of the virus, we simply do not believe we can create and maintain an environment for intercollegiate athletic competition that meets our requirements for safety and acceptable levels of risk, consistent with the policies that each of our schools is adopting as part of its reopening plans this fall," reads the letter

In most cases, schools have committed to closely following cases of coronavirus in their communities and it is possible schools, athletic conferences and the NCAA will shift their strategies again before the fall sports season starts. 

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