October 9, 2020

CUPractice.jpg

After COVID-19 testing and practice, the Buffs went to a hotel later Friday. 

 

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.

 

The catch 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.       

 

Over 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.