MISSOULA — As more student-athletes have begun to enter their respective workout facilities at Montana and Montana State, there is tentative optimism among campus leaders their protocols are working.
Both the Grizzly and Bobcat football teams have been doing voluntary workouts since early June. The UM men’s basketball team is also back in Missoula, along with head coach Travis DeCuire, doing voluntary workouts as well.
Countable workouts for men’s and women’s college basketball can begin on July 20. The current recruiting dead period in football lasts until Aug. 31 for all NCAA members.
Football can return to organized workouts on Monday. The Grizzly women’s soccer and volleyball teams will also resume voluntary workouts this coming week.
“So far, things have gone really well,” UM athletic director Kent Haslam told the Missoulian and 406mtsports.com on Wednesday. “It’s good to those student athletes back, it’s good to get them back in a structured environment and having them use our facilities with the help of our medical staff … our strength and condition staff, our medical staff, our coaches have all been really good about following those protocols.”
Added UM head women’s soccer coach Chris Citowicki in a text message: “I think it was a good idea to test the protocols with football and then phase everyone else in after. The team is ready to get after it but at the same time it’s hard not keep an eye on the news as we wait to see if there is going to be a fall season. Fingers crossed.”
Each school has put in very specific guidelines as far as screening student-athletes before they get into the facility. Face coverings are required when social distancing is not possible.
Temperature checks and any sort of history with any potential cases are also registered each day.
The University of Montana has currently not registered a case among its student-athletes or coaches.
Montana State has currently shut down its workouts following an increase in cases both in Gallatin County and nationwide according to a report from Colton Pool of the Bozeman Chronicle. A case among a Montana State player has also been recently reported.
It is not clear when MSU student-athletes will be allowed back in the facility.
“We’ve done a really good job of really, football has dominated the morning, so we’ve been able have them get done in the morning, which they were already doing normally, even when they get into the season,” Montana State athletic director Leon Costello said during a Tuesday media Zoom call. “Starting at 6:30 or 7 a.m. and then done by 10 or 10:30 a.m. which leaves a lot of time for the other sports. We’ve really been able to really set aside some time blocks within our facility which has prevented the groups from comingling, if you will, in our facilities.”
It’s a similar situation at Montana. Both schools also have large workout facilities, which has been a blessing for them as well.
This is especially true at Montana where the Grizzlies were using a tiny weight room before the Champions Center was completed in 2017.
“Our facilities certainly make it easier to do some of these things,” Haslam said. “I don’t know how we would have pulled this off this reopening of the weight room with the facility we had before, the cramped spaces and just the lack of an ability to spread out.”
The biggest issue for both athletic directors is simply what student-athletes decide to do outside of the confines of the school facilities. While every age group has seen an increase in COVID-19 cases since the first week of June, the fastest increase has been among 18- to 49-year olds. The AP reported on June 24 that in the month prior, around 7 percent of tests among 18- to 49-year olds had come back positive, which was 2 percentage points higher than older groups of adults.
In addition, 40 percent of those infected with coronavirus and needing a hospital stay in the month of June were in the 18- to 49-year old age bracket according to the COVID-NET database of hospitalizations in 14 states which account for 10 percent of the U.S. population.
That same age bracket made up just 26 percent of coronavirus hospitalizations in March in the same data set.
“It’s easy to control everything that happens here, but once they go home and run to the mall and run to the lake and that’s where we rely on good education and being responsible and doing the things they need to do stay healthy,” Haslam said. “I think all the schools are facing the exact same scenario … we’re all dealing with 18-to-24 year olds and how to manage them inside here is much easier than outside the facilities.”
At the same time, schools do not want to impose draconian laws on their student-athletes lives. It is a tough balance to strike, but the schools are hoping their students try and stay as safe as possible.
“We can’t really control a whole lot of what happens outside these walls. We educate and give them information and we hope they follow some of the things we’ve been telling them,” Costello said. “But we’re also treating them like adults and we hope they will take what we’re giving them very seriously and act appropriately outside these walls. I think that’s been the hardest part.”