Ragin' Cajuns have a return date for football players

Tim Buckley
Lafayette Daily Advertiser

The Ragin’ Cajuns soon can come back.

UL plans to allow return of its football players to campus for voluntary training workouts beginning June 8, Cajuns athletic director Bryan Maggard told The Daily Advertiser on Thursday afternoon.

They and all of UL’s other student-athletes have been banned from practice, competition and workout facilities since mid-March due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic that already has claimed more than 100,000 American lives.

In-person academic coursework was shut down as well as the university joined most others across the country in transitioning to virtual online instruction.

Maggard indicated the plan still requires university approval, which he said should come “very soon from campus leadership.”

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UL athletic director Bryan Maggard has a vision for Cajun Field renovation.
UL athletic director Bryan Maggard has a vision for Cajun Field renovation.

According to the plan, if approved, men’s and women’s basketball players, volleyball players and cross-country runners will be permitted to return to train and work out on July 1.

UL’s scholarship football players can return all at once, not in small-group phases as some programs elsewhere in the country are doing.

Maggard said the program’s athletic training staff will conduct “telephone questionnaire screenings and communications with those student-athletes to determine if students have had any level of exposure to the virus.”

The telephone screening for the football players will take place prior to the June 8 return date, according to Maggard.

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“If they’re coming back from hot spots,” he said, “we’ll have safety protocols in place for anybody we think might need some either additional screening, testing or timing … or if anybody is symptomatic.”

It is not known when actual full team practices will be permitted.

The Cajuns currently are scheduled to open their 2020 season Sept. 5 against McNeese at Cajun Field, although it remains to be seen if the virus will allow the season to start on time.

Coach Billy Napier’s Cajuns are coming off an 11-3 season, which they capped by beating Miami (Ohio) in the LendingTree Bowl.

UL also does not yet know if fans will be permitted at Cajun Field if, or when, games are held there this year.

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On Friday, the NCAA Sport Science Institute, in collaboration with the NCAA COVID-19 Advisory Panel, released what it called “Action Plan Considerations” to help schools mitigate risks of spread of the virus as staff and student-athletes return.

According to the document, “As the rates of infection and death from COVID-19 have recently declined or stabilized in some areas of the country, many states have established plans for resocialization, and there is an increasing dialogue about the need to balance the economic and other benefits of resocialization and reopening with the need to protect society from the public health consequences of the ongoing spread of COVID-19.

“Until a vaccine is in place, or until there is effective treatment, this type of balance analysis should continue, with an understanding that the most effective strategy to mitigate COVID-19 spread during resocialization includes the following:

  • physical distancing (and) universal masking when physical distancing is not possible;
  • hand hygiene, especially after touching frequently used items or surfaces, (and) using a tissue, or the inside of your elbow to sneeze or cough into;
  • not touching your face;
  • disinfecting frequently used items and surfaces as much as possible;
  • staying home if you feel sick and following the advice of your health care provider;
  • safe and efficient screening and testing sites for symptomatic individuals and trace contacts;
  • surveillance, including contact tracing; (and)
  • isolation and quarantine for new infections or for high-risk exposure.”
  • “Every community is different, and schools may return to campus at different times. But each will have to balance the need to return with the top priority of protecting student-athlete health and well-being,” NCAA chief medical officer Brian HainlineHainline said in a statement. “Until there is a vaccine in place, medical experts recommend adopting specific practices — including testing and social distancing when possible — and having plans in place for stopping spread if and when staff or students test positive for the coronavirus.”

It has not yet been determined if any additional testing at UL beyond that which occurs prior to return will take place at various times before the start of the season, according to Maggard.

Maggard additionally said “no determination” has been made on whether any antibody testing for the virus will be conducted.

Antibody tests check the blood for prior infection.

“Any testing, at least as now, that we’ve discussed centers primarily around just testing for the (current presence of) the virus itself,” Maggard said.

Maggard also said he knew of no one within the Cajun athletics family — football, or otherwise — who already has tested positive for the virus, and that “we hope to keep it that way.”

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