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The Arizona Wildcats begin welcoming student-athletes back to campus for voluntary workouts on Monday, the first day allowed by the Pac-12. How that process goes for the initial arrivals will dictate the way future groups are managed, athletic director Dave Heeke said Thursday.
“We have elected to take a very small and steady approach to this,” Heeke said. “It’s a comprehensive plan, but again it’s a measured plan. It’s also a fluid and flexible plan.”
While many schools across the country have brought back most or all of their football players at once, Arizona is going the opposite route. A group of about 20 football players that remained in Tucson after the coronavirus shut down college sports—and the UA campus—in mid-March will be the first to go through the school’s COVID-19 re-entry plan.
That group has already been tested, said Dr. Stephen Paul of C.A.T.S. Medical Services.
Reports of positive COVID-19 tests have come from several schools that have already welcomed back athletes, but Arizona has no plans to announce such news at the outset. Only after a larger total of student-athletes have returned and been tested do they intend to release statistical information about the testing, Paul said.
“We don’t plan to share any of our testing until we get a lot of numbers,” Paul said.
With the state still at the phase of re-opening that does not allow for groups larger than 10, everything done at this point will be in 10-person “pods,” Paul said. It won’t be until Gov. Doug Ducey moves to the next phase—something that may not happen anytime soon with Arizona’s case numbers spiking of late—that larger groups can be put together.
Paul said all workouts initially will be held within Arizona Stadium, with student-athletes entering from the east side and then receiving a basket of personal items including a mask, towels and sanitizer. They’ll be spread more than 10 feet apart on the field and work out with trainers for an hour before leaving the stadium, picking up food from a grab-and-go station on the way out.
After thorough cleaning, the next group will be allowed in, Paul said.
The plan is for another 30 football players to be able to start workouts on June 22, with 30 more the following Monday and then newcomers getting into the mix on July 6. Each athlete is expected to arrive early enough before that date to spend enough time in isolation, depending on whether they drove or flew to Tucson and from where, and be tested before beginning activity.
Soccer and volleyball players are tentatively set to begin workouts July 13, with men’s and women’s basketball on tap to start July 27 and athletes from all other sports joining in on Aug. 3. International athletes, regardless of sport, may take much longer to come back, Heeke acknowledged, though he said the school has been monitoring their respective country’s COVID-19 situation since they left and is working with various U.S. embassies to help arrange a return based on travel restrictions.
“Each one is it’s own individual case,” Heeke said.
Everything right now is catered toward getting student-athletes back in shape, Heeke said, with how the next few weeks go impacting the way official practices will be handled in the future.
Heeke said he fully expects Arizona to be able to play its full 2020 football schedule, though within the next month more definitive decisions will need to be made. That the Wildcats start earlier than most schools, hosting Hawaii in a “Week Zero” game on Aug. 29, further increases the need to figure things out soon.
The school has “not established a capacity” when it comes to fans at Arizona Stadium, Heeke said.