University of Illinois announces plans to return student-athletes to campus

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IOWA CITY, IOWA- NOVEMBER 23: Defensive back Sydney Brown #30 of the Illinois Fighting Illini is tackled after an interception during the first half by wide receiver Ihmir Smith-Marsette #6 on November 23, 2019 at Kinnick Stadium in Iowa City, Iowa. (Photo by Matthew Holst/Getty Images)

(WTVO/WQRF From the University of Illinois) –CHAMPAIGN, IL – The University of Illinois Division of Intercollegiate Athletics is preparing to return groups of student-athletes to campus for voluntary summer training, with staggered arrivals beginning as early as June 3.

These student-athletes will return according to a detailed plan developed by DIA, led by its sports medicine staff, in consultation and collaboration with the Champaign-Urbana Public Health District; Carle physicians; McKinley Health Center; SHIELD, the University’s committee tasked with developing testing protocols for the campus; and the Big Ten Conference. Through its partnership with SHIELD, DIA will pilot a return protocol that the University can further refine for the potential arrival of the student body in the fall.

DIA’s plan follows the timeline recently announced by the NCAA, which will allow voluntary workouts to resume on campuses as of June 1, and aligns approximately with similar plans being developed by other Big Ten institutions.

DIA will return select student-athletes to campus according to a tightly choreographed schedule that includes robust testing and initial periods of quarantine. Football and men’s basketball student-athletes are scheduled to arrive first, in small groups over a series of days in early June. The return protocol includes initial and ongoing viral and antibody testing, initial quarantining, contact tracing, and arrangements for extended quarantine and care of any student-athlete testing positive for COVID-19. By early July, DIA anticipates student-athletes from women’s basketball, volleyball, and soccer will have returned to campus as well. DIA will evaluate the ability to return student-athletes from sports beyond these five as the summer progresses.

The first workouts in football and men’s basketball are likely to occur in the second or third week of June. DIA has developed detailed workout protocols, which include safety elements borrowed from comparable procedures crafted by the NFL, NBA, United States Olympic Committee, NCAA, and Big Ten. These protocols include daily symptom checks and entry screenings; locker room, shower, and laundry procedures; guidance on group size and composition; directives regarding facility and equipment usage and cleaning; and expectations for safe coaching and instruction.

Per NCAA guidance, all football and basketball workouts in the month of June must be strictly voluntary. DIA will reiterate to all student-athletes that they have a choice to participate in intercollegiate athletics at the University of Illinois, and that DIA will honor any and all financial aid commitments, now and for the foreseeable future, even should a student-athlete decline to participate because of concerns related to COVID-19. DIA will also provide contact information for third-party campus resources should the student-athletes feel compelled to participate by coaches or staff, in contradiction to this stated position.

DIA recognizes that the University has made no official decisions about a return to in-person instruction for the fall. Similarly, no final decisions have been forthcoming regarding fall sports. Nonetheless, in anticipation that both school and sports, in some form or fashion, will occur in the fall, the early return of student-athletes to campus is necessary to provide them the opportunity to regain acceptable physical condition prior to engaging in competition. While away, most of them have lacked access to the facilities, equipment, and coaching needed to maintain their physical readiness for the rigors of high-major Division I athletics. A summer return to campus, combined with the safety protocols, will allow Illinois student-athletes to prepare their bodies for competition and minimize their susceptibility to injury, all while adhering to best-in-class standards for testing and community health.

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