Hundreds of universities across the nation are hoping to successfully and safely resume athletic activity. The Mustangs are also trying to bring sports back, Cal Poly Athletics Director Don Oberhelman said.
“I would call it a very rocky journey, to say the least,” Oberhelman said.
Cal Poly has been without athletic contests since March, and until recently, many of the athletic programs have been sidelined. In correspondence with San Luis Obispo County Public Health, many programs either had very strict practice protocols or no practices at all due to COVID-19.
The first hurdle Oberhelman said he and the athletics staff had to get over was COVID-19 testing.
“There was a time where we didn’t even think we would be able to test for COVID-19,” Oberhelman said. “If you can’t test for it, how on Earth are you going to play?”
As athletic programs begin to hold official practices again, Cal Poly is enforcing every athlete that enters Mott Athletic Center to have a temperature check and pass a COVID-19 self screening. Once completed, the individual will receive a wristband, allowing them to enter and participate for the day. Individuals have to complete this process every day to enter and participate.
“That’s worked really well, and I think our staff and our student-athletes understand why we are doing that,” Oberhelman said. “If anybody shows up with any symptoms or an elevated temperature, obviously we pull them out.”
Cal Poly Athletics has been able to rely solely on Campus Health and Wellbeing for COVID-19 testing purposes, Oberhelman said.
However, Oberhelman said that this could change when teams start competing again, as the athletes will need to be tested daily. Athletes will also need to be tested remotely when teams are in hotels for away sporting events. Oberhelman said that various companies have offered to provide additional tests if necessary.
“Just testing doesn’t quite do it. You still have to be on top of your protocols,” Oberhelman said. “I would argue that most of the time there has been an issue, it’s when somebody has broken protocols, somebody has acted selfishly.”
Cal Poly athletic programs are divided into pods of about 10-15 athletes. If there is a positive test, only the pod with the positive individual gets “shut down,” Oberhelman said. Once that pod is deemed to be completely healthy, they will be able to resume activity.
Besides games and competition, Oberhelman said he is concerned about the mental health of the athletes. He said he wants to ensure that necessary resources and guidance are given to the athletes as they navigate the pandemic.
“When you’re a student-athlete and you’ve literally devoted your life to this one craft and now all of a sudden you can’t do it, it can be really traumatic,” Oberhelman said.
The NCAA announced that all student-athletes will receive an additional year of eligibility and an additional year to complete their sport. Spring student-athletes also received the option of an extra year of eligibility after their 2019-2020 season was cut short in March.
There is some hope for fans hoping to attend athletic events this year, Oberhelman said.
“There are probably eight different entities that will be providing input,” Oberhelman said. “So far, it seems like most of the Big West Conference is willing to proceed with no fans in attendance.”
However, Oberhelman added that there are three schools who do not want to begin with no fans immediately — Cal Poly being one of them. For fans to be in attendance, approval will have to come from Gov. Gavin Newsom, San Luis Obispo County Public Health, Cal Poly and Cal Poly Athletics. The Big West Conference and the NCAA will also have to give approval.
“I feel like if fans can attend, we would be one of the first schools in California to allow that,” Oberhelman said.