Coronavirus impact: Athletes face challenge maintaining fitness, nutrition during time away from sports

Former OU receiver Nick Basquine participates in the bench press during OU's pro day on March 11 at the Siegried Strength Complex.

NORMAN — Oklahoma released new details about its health and safety protocols ahead of the football team’s return to campus facilities next week.

Notably, it was emphasized that student-athletes in 2020-21 can “remove themselves with no impact to their team standing or athletics department financial aid” if they feel uncomfortable with activities because of COVID-19.

“The athletics department will work closely with those individuals to address their concerns while keeping their safety as a top priority,” an OU release states.

Some athletes at other schools have expressed concern about returning amid the pandemic. Last week, according to the Los Angeles Times, 30 members of the UCLA football team signed a document meant to protect them as they return to campus.

OU's chief COVID officer, Dr. Dale Bratzler, is a professor for the university’s college of medicine and public health. He helped develop and review protocols in place. 

The football facility will open next Wednesday, July 1, with voluntary workouts. Groups will initially consist of 10 athletes and a small group of staff, with consideration being given later to expansion.

According to the release, “only medical testing will occur for the first two days of the return.” Staff and athletes will be tested for COVID-19.

If there are positive tests, OU’s medical staff will work with the Oklahoma State Department of Health and Goddard Health Center for tracking and tracing purposes.

OU will provide one mask for each athlete. Other measures — like social distancing in meeting rooms and speakers standing at the back of the room — will be put into practice. 

All internal doors will be left open to avoid using door handles. Doors will be tagged “red” if they have been occupied, so custodial staff can focus on those areas.

The school announced last month that facilities will be sanitized by fogging and spraying applications, and workout clothes will be disinfected with special detergents.

All student-athletes will shower at their residence instead of their sport facility.

Occupancy at Headington Hall, which is made up of 72% single-occupancy rooms, will be limited to two residents. Shields have been put up in some common areas.

For food, Headington's Wagner Dining Hall has eliminated all self-serve stations and seating has been arranged for distancing. Cash will not be an accepted form of payment.

OU is scheduled to open the season Sept. 5 against Missouri State in Norman.

This season could look different. OU President Joe Harroz recently told The Tulsa World that he believes fans will be allowed in the stadium for football games, but that masks would be an essential part of the process. 

Before that, players and staff must work finish the offseason and preseason by minimizing exposure to the virus. 

"They've been away for each other for a long time, so players are naturally going to want to be together," Castiglione said earlier this month. "They're going to want to go to places that have opened up. They're going to want to gather and do things together. And that's the place where they have to be really careful, protect themselves and protect others. We'll just continue to learn from that."

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