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Testing and trackers: a look inside Bradley Basketball’s COVID-19 protocols

The Mitchell “J.J.” Anderson practice court following the conclusion of the 2020 NCAA basketball season in March. Photo by Larry Larson.

As college basketball approaches its Nov. 25 opening day, there are many questions to be answered regarding how teams across the country will make it through the 2020-21 season while averting a COVID-19 outbreak. 

On Wednesday afternoon, Bradley University Director of Health Services Dr. Jessica Higgs outlined the answers to some of those questions, as she detailed university, conference and NCAA protocols for the upcoming season. 

“It will probably come off fairly closely to the professional teams that have been playing so far and the college football season has come off so far, ” Higgs said in a Zoom call with media members. “There will be some times that games are canceled, postponed or moved … but so far all the other leagues have been predominantly able to get through the season.”

In accordance with NCAA guidelines, Bradley athletes will be antigen tested three times per week on non-consecutive days throughout the season. When teams travel, they will be subject to the other teams’ and conference testing protocols. 

According to Higgs, the Missouri Valley Conference is working to acquire small, wearable devices for each team to assist with contact tracing among players. 

The devices are small enough to be worn on players’ wrists or as a necklace, but the devices will likely be placed in a small pocket in players’ shorts or on the waistband. 

Trackers would be worn by each player during practice and games to gather data on how long players are in close proximity to each other. In the case of a single positive test, this data would determine who is most at risk of contracting the virus from that other player – determining who needs to quarantine and who doesn’t.  

Current NCAA guidelines state that an entire team must quarantine for 14 days following a single positive COVID-19 test. However, if these devices detect that a player wasn’t in close contact with the player who tested positive, they could be exempted from the quarantine. 

Additionally, Higgs said that these devices could possibly guide future practice guidelines.

“If we hold a practice, and we look at the wearable devices afterwards and it basically says all 15 people are out if there’s a positive, then we may need to reevaluate the way that practice is run,” Higgs said. “It will at least give some tangible evidence to the coaches to make some adjustments, potentially, in their practice plans.” 

At practices, players each have their own water bottle and towel, and no other equipment of that nature is shared. Coaches have been encouraged to keep players in “pods” in practice to limit contact between players. B-shields are marked on the floor to indicate a safe distance from others when non-basketball activity is occurring. 

Thus far, the consensus among players seems to be that practice feels relatively normal. 

“The intensity is still there,” men’s sophomore guard Ville Tahvanainen said. “Obviously, there’s little changes … Right now, because there’s really not much to do off the court, I feel like guys are more focused.” 

Other than precautions taken at practice, student-athletes are not instructed to follow any extra protocols than their non-athlete peers, according to Higgs. 

“Wearing your mask, staying six feet apart, washing your hands frequently, not going into spaces with close contacts … All those guidelines apply to the student athletes as well as to the general student population,” Higgs said. 

For men’s basketball head coach Brian Wardle, the goal is simple. 

“Stay positive, test negative, that’s our slogan,” Wardle said. “I think coach [Jim] Harbaugh at Michigan said that and I totally agree.”

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