Cautious but hopeful…UA football begins phased re-entry

Looking in from the outside, it’s not readily apparent the effort and cost that it is going to take to resume college sports that have been shut down since mid-March to guard against the spread of COVID-19.

The numbers are staggering.

In his Sunday Notebook column, long-time Arizona sports writer Greg Hansen cited an example of the cost involved that came from University of Texas football coach, Tom Herman.  The Longhorns’ head coach told reporters that “the testing alone for players and staff is upwards of $250,000.”  By the time upkeep, continual sanitization, screening, and other necessities are figured in, the cost, he says, is likely to be “upwards of $1 million.”

And that’s just one school.  Let that sink in.

Hansen was writing about the re-entry program at University of Arizona and how that school is handling it.  He points out that UofA has about 250 people employed in the athletic department, and they will all be effected by the school’s ability to get the sports programs back up and running.  That’s a weighty responsibility.

As Hansen also points out, UofA operates with debt service payments of “close to $7.5 million per year.”  That doesn’t just go away because the revenue stream dries up.

On Monday, the UofA re-entry plan took its first step by allowing voluntary physical activities for the football players in on-campus facilities, following guidelines provided by the NCAA and Pac-12 Conference.

Now, Director of Athletics Dave Heeke and his staff will have about four weeks to determine whether the plan they’ve adopted will accomplish the desired results: confirm that the 2020 football season will be able to start on time.  That would be Aug. 29,  when the Wildcats are scheduled to host Hawaii in the season opener.

The long road to get to this beginning phase has been challenging.  For the last couple of months, the university has been implementing a Campus Re-entry Plan that established a task force that has been surveying ideas gleaned from around the nation and around the world.  These ideas were used to help prepare guidelines and a template for a collection of four teams that worked collaboratively on planning a safe re-entry for all campus operations, including athletics.

The Core Team has been “articulating guiding principals and key public health domains” for re-opening the campuses, while the Implementation Planning Team is organized into seven working groups that collaborate on preparing guidelines.

The Test, Trace and Treat Team has been developing operations plans for key areas such as testing, contact tracing, isolation, and medical care.  And the Return to the University Workplace Team has developed guidance for essential workers currently on campus and those returning before the fall semester.

But why stop there?  Ad hoc groups would also spring up during the process to address special issues and concerns.  They had all the bases covered.

It’s been a huge undertaking, but one that needed to be done to protect the Wildcat community, workers, and players.  The re-entry of the football program should be a good test to see if that can, indeed, be done safely.

(Photo: Arizona Athletics)