CEDAR FALLS — Northern Iowa’s athletics department said last Friday that seven student-athletes and one staff member had tested positive for COVID-19 among more than 150 administered tests.
UNI began its “resocialization process” on June 8 with upperclassman football players. Now, a week into July, all of UNI’s student-athletes have been able to return to campus and athletics director David Harris continues to feel confident about the school’s safety procedures amid eight positive tests.
“I think things have gone pretty smoothly so far, but because the situation is so fluid, you know that at any point you have to be open to adjusting your protocols just based on new information,” Harris said. “Most importantly we continue to have conversations with those who are in a position to really advise us. Then, we make the adjustments as they are needed.”
As the fall nears, Harris and many other non-Power 5 athletics directors are wondering if the NCAA will mandate COVID-19 testing requirements. If the NCAA doesn’t, it opens the door to conferences dictating testing requirements themselves and potentially creating conflicts for non-conference games when one conference’s requirements differ. There’s also the potential a number of non-Power 5 institutions could be severely impacted by the associated costs of mandated testing.
“Part of what’s going to happen to us financially, is once the standard is set that we have to meet either as a conference or just as an NCAA institution, then we’re going to be able to have an estimate on what it might cost to meet that standard,” Harris said. “That’s something that I think everyone who sits in an AD’s chair is paying attention to because that’s where the financial realities of this really begin to set in.”
When it comes to UNI’s plans for fall attendance at the UNI-Dome and McLeod Center, Harris indicated an announcement would be out “soon.” He also described having a football program that plays its home games in an indoor venue creates a few more obstacles to work through.
“You’re trying to prepare for all eventualities. The truth of the matter is at some point you have to decide which of those things are most likely to occur and that’s what you begin to develop your plans around,” Harris said. “I would say up front that most of the guidance that you hear is about having your capacity at no more than 50 percent. So, that’s in many cases where our conversations are beginning.”
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Harris indicated final decisions have not yet been made on the availability of concessions for fall sports or whether or not masks will either be heavily suggested or required should fans be able to attend.
When it comes to the elephant in the room — the likelihood of fall sports being played or not — he described his current thoughts while continuing to acknowledge things can change quickly.
“I guess I would describe myself as being cautiously optimistic,” Harris said. “I’m optimistic that with all of the smart people who are working together to try to figure out the best way to be able to do this relatively safely, that we can come up with something that is a standard for protocols that will either be applied by conference or nationally that we feel will give us the best chance to have a successful season.
“At the same time, with so much information changing, with the numbers going back up and the season approaches concern continues to grow.”