October 9, 2020
After COVID-19 testing and practice, the Buffs went to a hotel later
It was a bit confusing. Initially, the
vaguely identified "Players of the Pac 12" laid out an extensive manifesto in the Players Tribune, outlining concerns
about safety and exploitation as COVID-19 tightened its grip. It could have been delivered by a linebacker in Sproul Plaza
in Berkeley. But it wasn't long before the refrain instead became: "LET US PLAY!" The lack of specific identification
left it unclear how many had made a 180-degree turn, but the nascent rebellion was shoved into the background.
So now, with the Colorado
Buffaloes and other Pac-12 teams starting to prepare to become the final Power 5 league to open the 2020 season -- in their
case, against UCLA on Nov. 7 -- the players seem all in. Mostly. There have been only scattered opt-outs, and the Buffs --
with an asssisting shove from the Boulder County Health Department -- for at least a coupple of weeks will be operating under
bubble-like conditions that include daily COVID-19 testing and isolation away from the practice field and football facilities
at a Boulder hotel.
is that CU is resuming in-person classes next week, at least to a modest extent, after a period of online-only. Players will
be allowed to attend, but many of the classes will be hybrid in-person and online, so physical attendance and the interaction
with other students it requires might not be necessary. In theory, players -- whether in Boulder or Corvallis or Tuscaloosa
-- could be exposed to COVID-19 in everyday campus life. It doesn't require attending a party on The Hill.
and over, in discussions of CIVID-19's effect on sports, we've heard: "Obviously a bubble is impactical for college sports
Now CU is part of putting that to the test.
Miguel Rueda is CU's director of health and performance.
On Friday, after the
Buffs' first pre-season practice, I asked him how concerned or confident about whether CU could impose bubble-like conditions
for for young college athletes.
"At the end of the day, a lot is going to be up to the student-athletes,"
Rueda said. "I think our student athletes have been here, particularly in football, since June. . . Just trying to get
back here, they missed their sprring, they missed their training. We had an on-boarding process that was pretty extensive.
They worked really hard with our strength and coniditioning coaches and all of a sudden the bottom fell out.
"These guys have put
in a lot of time and effort and energy, and when you sort of take something away, or take away what you're working for, that's
when I get concerned. Now, when our student athletes have a season to prepare for, I feel really good about them making the
right decisions because this is something they really want. they've worked so hard to get here and we're going to see some
great things from these student-athletes becuase thety actually have something to work for."
Later, I asked first-year
coach Karl Dorrell the same thing.
"I think our players have seen it with the NBA and NHL and other professional leagues, with
bubbling those programs and that's why they were able to complete their season, I think they get that," Dorrell said.
"I think they get why we're doing it and trying to keep everbody as healthy as we can. We're still operating on a Boulder
ordinance in terms of things that are really specific for us to do. They understand it. They get it.
"There still are a lot of
isssues with this virus and playing football right now. You see it professionally. You definitely see it on the college level.
It's not a perfect science but they understand it's important to do things
in the protocol, so it can give us a chance to be healthy at the start of the season."
Ultimately, I asked
Buffs senior llinebacker Nate Landman about the issue. After all, the opening of practice in time for preparation for the
Pac-12's late start recently seemed in danger because of the health department's ban on gatherings of college-age men and
women. That was after widespread ignoring of social distancing protocols after the beginning of fall semester. Plus, the Pac-12
includes settings known to be even more, um, festive than typical campuses. Yes, Boulder is one of them.
"I think the bubble actually
will be pretty beneficial for us," he said. "Being a young team, it will be good for team morale and team chemistry.
I think having that close quarters in the hotel will be notning but beneficial for us."
But can everybody follow those conditions?
"It's pretty strict,"
he said. "After practice, we're back to the hotel. We're there for meetings.
Dinner is at the Champions Center, which is 30 seconds away. I think people are stepping up and realizing that goal of what
we want to accomplish. . . I don't think with this team you have to worry too much about them going out and breaking rules."
That's going to be
a bigger challenge than a must-make 4th-and-17.