With college basketball planning to tip off in less than two months, the NCAA has released its set of health and safety guidelines for the season.
The guidelines, which are supported by the NCAA Board of Governors, were created by the NCAA Sport Science Institute and the NCAA COVID-19 Medical Advisory Group, whose members include team physicians as well as infectious disease and public policy experts.
With regard to COVID-19, the NCAA lists basketball as a high-contact risk sport and encourages schools to group their players and staff into a two-tier system. Tier one, the highest tier, would be composed of players and those with the most direct access to them. The NCAA estimates that most schools will have 25 to 30 tier one individuals on their team, including most coaches. Tier two will be composed of other essential basketball personnel who occasionally may need to be in close proximity to tier one individuals and may need to periodically access restricted areas.
Currently, all basketball programs are in countable athletics-related activities, which the NCAA defines as “any required activity with an athletics purpose that involves student-athletes and is at the direction of, or supervised by, any member of an institution’s coaching staff, including strength and conditioning coaches.” Also known as the transition period, this phase runs from Sept. 21 to Oct. 13.
The NCAA suggests the use of surveillance COVID-19 testing, which can be used to monitor virus movement, its effects on certain groups of people, and indicate patterns of growth and decline. Surveillance testing should be considered every two weeks for tier one individuals if practices such as physical distancing and masking are not maintained, with additional testing for symptomatic and high-contact risk individuals. However, the NCAA notes that this form of testing is still in its infancy.
Once basketball programs transition to their preseason activities, the NCAA anticipates that physical distancing and masking will be compromised. If there are no scrimmages with outside teams, tier one individuals will not be interacting with people outside of their tier during practice. In this case, weekly testing should suffice for all tier one individuals. However, should scrimmages occur with other schools, then programs will be held accountable to the NCAA’s testing protocols for the regular season and postseason.
Regular season and postseason testing protocols take into account the frequency of games, travel, and the risk of infection in basketball. The NCAA suggests that tier one individuals get tested three times a week on non-consecutive days and that the testing begins one week before a team’s first competition.
In addition to playing, the NCAA has also suggested guidelines for off-the-court practices. With the assumption that a program’s tier one individuals have tested negative and have already been in close contact with others on the court, the NCAA does not suggest that these players must observe physical distancing and universal masking while on the bench. However, it is suggested that the bench be physically separated from all other individuals, such as those in a program’s tier two ranking.
The NCAA notes that logistics should be considered when addressing the risks related to tier two individuals who must be present at a game. These individuals are suggested to observe masking and physical distancing at all times and be prevented from interacting with any individual on the bench unless physical distancing and masking are in place for all.
Other close contact risks near the bench area, such as the scorer’s table, are encouraged to limit the amount of staff present and move to the opposite side of the court if feasible.
As stated on the NCAA website, NCAA President Mark Emmert said, “This basketball resocialization guidance is based on the best information available in a rapidly changing COVID-19 environment.” He also said that the NCAA “will constantly assess emerging information as we prepare for the start of the basketball season at the end of November.”