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Michigan joins MSU as football players begin reporting with protocols in place

Angelique S. Chengelis
The Detroit News

Michigan football players, veterans and freshmen, started reporting to campus Monday to begin preparations for upcoming voluntary workouts, and the university finally released its plan for how it will test student-athletes for COVID-19 and move forward toward the season.

Athletes from the men’s and women’s basketball teams also began returning to campus on Monday if they chose to take part in voluntary strength and conditioning workouts. These are the only three sports currently allowed by the NCAA to take part in voluntary summer workouts.

There will be a 14-day pre-report risk assessment, a six-day resocialization period to campus, and daily risk assessments, including temperature checks

These are among the initial steps being revealed around the country toward a return to college football since the COVID-19 pandemic put a halt to all levels of athletics nationally in mid-March.

All on-campus activities were suspended at Michigan on March 12 because of the COVID-19 pandemic. The Big Ten that day canceled all remaining winter and spring sports. The NCAA announced schools could begin allowing student-athletes from football, and men’s and women’s basketball back to campus on June 1.

Several Big Ten schools, including Michigan State and Ohio State, had already revealed their plans to ensure a safe return to campus for student-athletes.

"We are pleased to start the process of welcoming student-athletes back to our campus through a medical and public health-informed protocol and plan," Michigan athletic director Warde Manuel said in a statement released Monday evening. “We continue to take the utmost care to ensure that all student-athletes and staff return to a safe and healthy environment.

"Our protocols and plans have been developed by medical experts from across UM's campus, who have collaborated with officials at the local, state and national levels. I appreciate the contributions and comprehensive efforts across so many groups and in coordination with the Big Ten Conference and peers across the NCAA."

There will be a 14-day pre-report risk assessment, a six-day resocialization period to campus, and daily risk assessments, including temperature checks at Michigan. As part of the resocialization period, there will be antibody testing and physicals.

Players and staff will have daily screening before entering facilities, and they will be given guidelines, including social distancing, wearing masks, hand hygiene, that must be followed if they are to participate.

Each day, the Michigan athletics campus will be cleaned and sanitized with particular emphasis on high-risk areas like locker rooms, strength and conditioning spaces and athletic training rooms. They will be cleaned by electrostatic sanitation.

Athletes who test positive for COVID-19 have to be quarantined.

Jim Harbaugh

Michigan football players started arriving Monday and will undergo coronavirus testing and take physicals this week. Several Michigan football staff members along with players who live locally have already been tested, according to several sources.

The first official voluntary workout is June 22.

Michigan State football players also returned to campus Monday. MSU laid out its testing protocols and safety measures earlier this month.

While Michigan worked on developing its return-to-campus protocols, Michigan football coach Jim Harbaugh has had open dialogue with parents of his players for the last several weeks, gauging their thoughts on how to proceed. Harbaugh most recently met with parents last week during a two-hour call.

Gradually, programs across the country have shared their return policies. Ohio State players returned to campus for voluntary workouts last week and were required to sign a “Buckeye Pledge,” a risk waiver, according to a story published Sunday by The Columbus Dispatch, which obtained the two-page pledge through an open-records request.

According to the report, the players were asked to “pledge to take responsibility for my own healthy and help stop the spread of COVID-19.”

OSU athletic director Gene Smith in an interview Sunday night with ESPN said the waiver was not intended to be a legal document and referred to it as a pledge so if a teammate or staff member is not wearing a mask or following social distancing protocol, that person can be called out.

SMU athletics, however, has taken the “pledge” a step further and is requiring student-athletes to sign a liability waiver before returning for workouts, The Dallas Morning News reported Monday. Student-athletes, according to the document, cannot hold the school liable for anything related to COVID-19, hence waiving the right to litigation.

Indiana has implemented something similar to Ohio State. IU had student-athletes sign the “Expectations and Commitment Pledge” according to the Herald-Times in Bloomington, and this pledge is similar to OSU’s in that it explains there are expectations to continue being vigilant regarding the virus in terms of hygiene and social distancing.

Several Michigan parents said a pledge of these sorts has not yet been brought up in discussions with Harbaugh.

Chris Hutchinson, an emergency room physician at Beaumont Royal Oak, is a former Michigan football All-American and co-captain and his son, Aidan, is a defensive end on the current team and appeared on The News’ “View from the Press Box” podcast last week. Hutchinson said he helped Harbaugh shape a survey given to parents asking their views on returning to football in light of the pandemic.

“He engaged me on being a physician and being a parent on how to ask these questions and what type of questions to ask,” Hutchinson said on the podcast. It’s been eye-opening for a lot of people to see how people respond differently to this stress.”

He also said there will have to be an honor system of sorts among players that “if you have a sore throat you’ve got to let us know.”

Michigan State nearly two weeks ago presented its plans for returning to campus. Receivers coach Courtney Hawkins posted Monday on Twitter a photo of himself at Spartan Stadium, and he’s wearing not only a Spartan hat, but a Spartan mask and the message: “Excited to get back to work!”

MSU developed its plan for student-athletes, who will go through testing first, by following safety guidelines from the State of Michigan Department of Health and Human Services and CDC guidelines, on-campus medical professionals, and from the Big Ten and NCAA. According to Michigan State, following testing, each student-athlete must self-isolate for a week. Those with a positive test will be quarantined for 10 days.

On June 22, those who tested negative will be tested again. If the student-athlete returns another negative test, he or she will be cleared to begin voluntary workouts under the supervision of strength and conditioning and athletic training staffs. The athletes will be split into small workout groups based on individuals with whom they live. After they’ve been cleared to take part in workouts, they will be monitored every time they enter a facility. MSU athletics staff members also will undergo testing.

The NCAA released a plan last Thursday to the Division I Football Oversight Committee that will give teams six weeks to prepare for the season, which would start on time. There will be a vote Wednesday on the guidelines.

Players would start July 13 with a mandatory eight hours a week of weight training and conditioning along with film review. Programs would shift to 20 hours a week on July 24 and that would include eight hours of weights and condition, six hours for meetings and six hours for walk-throughs with a football. Then things would become more like a normal schedule with preseason camp beginning Aug. 7 with a five-day acclimation period followed by 25 practices.

achengelis@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @chengelis