With just a month until football and other fall sports are expected to begin their seasons, Virginia Tech continues to work towards a return to competition.
“Right now, I feel like we can proceed as safe as this environment will let us,” said Whit Babcock, Athletic Director. “If the scale of justice tips the other way, we’ll adjust and try to find alternate options.”
Babcock claims that there are about 250 student-athletes on campus including all fall sports athletes and both the men’s and women’s basketball team.
The main concern at this moment is testing for COVID-19 and trying to prevent an outbreak inside the athletic department.
“A lot has to be evolving with all of the testing, but as of right now, I think [one test per week] is a reasonable standard to uphold to,” said Dr. Mark Rogers, team physician and chief medical officer. “For preseason and out-of-season, we’re testing more than the ACC is recommending, and I think that’s appropriate as of right now.”
No numbers have been released by the university regarding how many positive tests have been found since players returned to campus. This is in an effort to avoid the identification of students who test positive for the virus.
Although no one knows the exact number of positive cases, Tech is optimistic about the results they have seen thus far.
The process for dealing with a positive coronavirus test has not been explicitly spelled out, but Rogers says that the Hokies will be implementing a system of concentrated surveillance. Players who test positive will go through an isolation period of a minimum of ten days, plus one full day without a fever.
Student-athletes who have been in contact with someone who has tested positive will also have to quarantine for fourteen days.
“Close contacts will be identified to us by the health department through their contact tracing and will go into a fourteen-day quarantine,” Rogers said. “The reason for that is if they develop symptoms, we want to be able to limit their exposure.”
One of the largest aspects of the university’s plan is educating student-athletes about avoiding high-risk activities and prevention techniques.
“We’ve had a couple of different pieces of our education including a few videos and we’ve had some face-to-face stuff through Zoom,” Rogers said. “There’s been some reminders about some things as well. As big weekends are coming up, our education team has put some reminders out about wearing a face mask, physically distancing and washing your hands.”
Implementing these strategies is easier with only 250 student-athletes is easy compared to what the department will be dealing with in just over two weeks. With almost the entire student body returning to Blacksburg before the end of August, it will be crucial for players to continue to social distance and wear their masks when around their peers.
“Campus knows that will be a fulcrum-point for us, and I believe that’s why you’ve seen some scheduling and other things after the students get back to see how we can adjust to that wave,” Babcock said. “We’re all tip-toeing forward until we can’t.”
Competition is expected to begin during the second week of September, with the ACC rolling out the modified 2020 football schedule on Thursday morning. Tech will also play Liberty on November 7.
For Olympic sports, there has not been a firm decision on whether non-conference competition will take place. The ACC will schedule the NCAA minimum amount of games in-conference, and the schools will be allowed to choose whether they play additional non-conference games.
“[The ACC] would leave the Olympic sports scheduling up to the schools to find opponents locally that can meet the testing requirements,” Babcock said. “The ACC games would be the minimum, but we would have the ability to schedule non-conference games at our discretion.”
The next issue that will have to be addressed is whether fans will be allowed in the stands. State and local guidelines will most likely dictate the capacity allowed into Hokie games this fall, but there is still optimism that fans will be walking through the gates at Lane Stadium in 2020.
“There could be no fans, but certainly that’s not optimal, or potentially up to 50 percent,” Babcock said. “We talked last week with our campus teams and health officials, and we would land somewhere around 30-36 percent capacity. The suites could be done differently where people can do it at their own risk and decide how many people they want up there.”
With, at the very least, a limited number of fans attending games this fall, season-ticket holders will be affected. If no fans are allowed at Hokie football games this season, Tech is providing them with a number of options including a refund, carrying the purchase over to next season, or donating the money to the Hokie Club.
“There will be a lot of options, and if people are in a position to help us, that’s great,” Babcock said. “If times are tight and they would like a refund, we understand that as well.”
If fans are unable to see Tech football this year, that could lead to more financial issues for the athletic department. At this point, Tech has not been seriously impacted by the pandemic, but decisions regarding the football season will be important for the future of the department.
“Unfortunately, you have already started to see some sports cuts, and there may be some athletic departments that won’t make it through,” Babcock said. “With the resources we have in this league, I’m certainly hopeful that we’ll make it through. I believe we can and would love to maintain every student-athlete experience and opportunity for every sport that we can.”
There are still plenty of unknowns as the summer comes to a close. No one truly knows what the fall will bring for athletic departments and conferences across the country. However, Virginia Tech continues to be optimistic and looks forward to resuming athletic competition next month.
“We’re running the play that was called in terms of best practices and according to Mark, we even go above and beyond what the requirements are,” Babcock said. “I’m pleased with the testing and the amounts so far.”
Full video interviews with Dr. Mark Rodgers and Whit Babock have been included below.