Having been walking in place for weeks, UCLA and USC moved one significant step closer to a potential start of football practice Friday when the California Department of Public Health released guidelines that both teams appeared to have satisfied as part of their attempts to save the season.
The guidelines call for a school-specific return-to-play safety plan, regular COVID-19 testing of athletes and support staff, adherence to quarantine and contact tracing protocols for individuals who test positive for the novel coronavirus and a prohibition on forcing players to waive their legal rights related to the virus as a condition of participation. There was no specific requirement for testing, though it was suggested as an example that teams could consider testing 25% of their players and staff each week.
UCLA and USC would also need Los Angeles County and campus clearance before commencing practices, which could begin as soon as Aug. 17 as the teams prepare for a truncated season scheduled to start with a game between the crosstown rivals on Sept. 26 at the Rose Bowl.
Players are currently allowed only eight hours of individual strength and conditioning work in groups of 10 or fewer and an additional six hours of virtual team meetings per week.
The guidelines laid out requirements for games to be played without spectators, including schools providing virus testing and results within a 72-hour period before games; the sharing of test results and safety assurances between teams, including an agreement to provide notification should a player test positive within 48 hours after competition with another team; and the securing of contact tracing resources from either local sources or on-site personnel that the school would be required to train.
A number of caveats accompanied the guidelines, such as the possibility that they would be updated as new data and practices emerge. UCLA and USC will be required to follow safety standards implemented by the NCAA and Pac-12 Conference related to the virus and apply the protocols that are the strictest.
State officials also noted that implementation of the guidelines was contingent upon improving or favorable local epidemiological trends and health care capacity. Decisions about implementing the guidelines are expected to be made in collaboration with local public health officials and tailored specifically to the settings at each school.
Recent virus trends involving the local schools have been encouraging. USC reported zero positive COVID-19 tests from 107 student-athletes this week and UCLA has not had any football players test positive since their initial intake tests upon returning to campus last month.
Acknowledging the increased risk of indoor transmission, the guidelines specify that athletic facilities must limit occupancy to essential personnel such as players, coaches, trainers, security and event staff. Face coverings will be required among players and coaches on the sidelines.