UAlbany resumes athletic activities after coronavirus-related pause

UAlbany's Antonio Rizzuto with the ball against Maine'€s Mykhailo Yagodin during their basketball game at SEFCU Arena in January.
UAlbany's Antonio Rizzuto with the ball against Maine'€s Mykhailo Yagodin during their basketball game at SEFCU Arena in January.

Categories: College Sports, Sports

ALBANY — After a hiatus of more than three weeks during which nearly 1,400 coronavirus tests were administered to the school’s athletes, UAlbany athletics resumed activities Monday on a limited basis.

UAlbany athletic director Mark Benson confirmed the resumption, which starts this week with athletes being allowed to participate in strength and conditioning activities, and team meetings through Zoom.

“We feel comfortable that now is the right time to start this first phase of workouts,” Benson said. “We just wanted to make sure that we were very cautious about our return since we had a stop, start, stop already.”

Earlier this year, all sports contests for UAlbany fall teams were postponed until next spring because of concerns related to the pandemic. Formal offseason workouts were originally scheduled to start for all sports on Aug. 31, but UAlbany delayed that start a week because of concern over large off-campus gatherings discovered to have occurred during the final weekend of August. After each of the school’s athletic programs started activities on Sept. 7 with numerous safety-related precautions in place, UAlbany shut down all athletic activity on Sept. 11, a day after a social-media post issued from UAlbany referenced a “very concerning spike” in COVID-19 cases among students, which consisted of 31 positive coronavirus cases being reported within a 24-hour span and that “clusters [had] been identified within athletics and in off-campus student housing.”

In the end, UAlbany “paused” all athletics-related activities for 24 days. In that time since Sept. 11, a total of 1,387 tests — counting both individual and pooled tests — were administered to the school’s athletes and 57 individual positives were discovered, according to data Benson provided Monday to The Daily Gazette.

Moving forward, all of UAlbany’s athletes will be tested at least once per week. Once in season, Benson said the school’s basketball players will be tested three times per week, in accordance with guidance issued from the NCAA. 

In the current two-week period that ends Friday, UAlbany’s overall COVID-19 dashboard shows 31 positive cases as of Monday evening. If a college or university reaches 100 positive cases among students, faculty and staff on campus within a 14-day period, that school is required to move to remote learning for at least two weeks under guidance from the governor’s office. Such an event occurred Monday evening when it was announced that SUNY Cortland had “met the 100-case threshold to transition to remote learning under New York State Department of Health guidance.”

UAlbany men’s basketball head coach Will Brown said his athletes had a team lift early Monday and conditioning work is set for Tuesday. Brown said all of his players were able to participate Monday, and that his team is hopeful to be on the court in SEFCU Arena next week at some point, despite it seeming unlikely that the Great Danes will be able to stage a full practice on Oct. 14 when Division I teams across the country are first allowed to do that.

“The world we’re living in right, it’s all about adapting and adjusting,” Brown said.

Brown’s message to his players as they restarted formal team activities: “Let’s not complain about what we can’t do. Let’s embrace what we can do.”

UAlbany headed into the 2020-21 academic year with an athletics plan broken down into three phases of two weeks apiece, which mirrors recommendations from the NCAA. Among other measures meant to mitigate health risks in the first phase of the plan, UAlbany’s plan calls for athletes to wear face masks at all times, including during athletic activity; athletes and coaches must physically distance; and, groups of no more than 10 individuals are allowed to meet at one time.

In the second phase, UAlbany’s plan allows for up to 25 individuals to work together at one time, while the third phase allows up to 50.

This week, Benson said UAlbany is “phasing in Phase I” since the Great Danes won’t be allowed to do any on-court or on-field skill work this week. The plan is for such activity to start next week, with expected moves to Phase II on Oct. 19 and Phase III on Nov. 2.

“We’re going to continually monitor everything, though, and make adjustments where we deem appropriate,” Benson said.

Those changes could make things more or less restrictive for the Great Danes’ teams. Any changes will be of particular interest to the school’s basketball teams, which are allowed to start practicing a week from Wednesday and are allowed to play games as soon as Nov. 25.

“We want to put both of our basketball programs in as good of a position to resume practice and workouts as soon as possible, based on our monitoring of our phased-in approach,” Benson said.

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