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Wildcats to use ‘pods’ in workout return, expect to play football season

(Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

Arizona Wildcats athletic director Dave Heeke said Thursday that he believes the school will play its full college football schedule and has protocols in place to bring back student-athletes amid rising state coronavirus totals.

The school will on Monday welcome back about 20 athletes who have already been tested for COVID-19 and have been in isolation. Monday is the first day the Pac-12 will allow for voluntary workouts.

Arizona has a fluid and tentative plan for athletes to return on a voluntary basis in “pods” of 10 athletes or less.

“We can isolate when we have positive cases. We have the protocols and guidelines in place to maintain order with any positive test,” Heeke said on a Zoom call.

Pods of athletes will work out outdoors at Arizona Stadium to begin, maintaining at least 15 feet of distance between one another, per the school’s fluid re-entry playbook. The first phase of workouts are mostly strength and conditioning work.

The athletes will be issued their own water and workout items before workouts and then will grab meals on their way out of the session on the opposite side of the football stadium.

If there are no positive tests, the athletic department will slowly welcome back more pods of 10 or fewer people.

“We’re really stressing the bubble approach,” said Dr. Stephen Paul of C.A.T.S. Medical Services.

If an athlete tests positive after already entering the workout program, the university is hopeful that putting the entire pod in isolation will keep the virus from spreading to other pods.

Arizona will consider moving into the next phases of re-entry workouts if health officials allow.

Phase 2 will allow for more workouts indoors and with more equipment, such as work in the weight room.

Phase 3 will push pods beyond 10 athletes and will allow athletes to enter locker rooms and more shared spaces. The final phase will allow groups to be larger.

State coronavirus numbers, health organization recommendations, plus discussions within the Pac-12 and NCAA will all dictate when the Wildcats feel comfortable moving into new phases of a return.

Heeke stressed that the school is being cautious and controlled in its approach.

He added that athletes who feel uncomfortable returning will be making a personal decision about whether to rejoin teams.

“We would respect that,” Heeke said.

Paul added that the school’s coronavirus testing abilities, which are in concert with the university’s experts, will be different compared to other universities. He added the test results take about 48 hours to process.

Much of the caution, Heeke said, is expressed in education of the returning athletes. There’s “a significant education step that we take” to put the onus on the individuals to take their social distancing seriously, both away from the school and during workouts.

The athletic director added he remains optimistic Arizona will play its full football schedule that begins with an Aug. 29 home game against Hawaii.


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