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Despite the cancellations of two Power 5 conferences, fall sports in the Atlantic Coast Conference “continue to be on a path to compete this fall,” Director of Athletics John Wildhack said during a press conference Tuesday.
Wildhack, who signed a five-year extension last week to continue serving as athletics director, offered a sense of cautious optimism throughout the press conference. The success of Syracuse’s coronavirus protocols has encouraged him, but he said multiple times that plans could unravel quickly if an outbreak were to occur.
Syracuse has now administered more than 1,750 tests to athletes, coaches and staff, five of which have been positive, Wildhack said. None of the five infections are active cases, and none have occurred within the last six weeks.
Wildhack said in June that SU Athletics wasn’t planning to release information on positive cases among athletes, but he listed the numbers for total and positive tests in a statement Aug. 14. He also committed to testing athletes three times a week during the athletic season after football players sat out three practices over concerns with other school’s COVID-19 policies.
“We wanted to be in-sync with the University,” Wildhack said on releasing results. “They now have a COVID-19 dashboard, and we wanted to do so in conjunction with them.”
Classes at SU began Monday, but ACC school Notre Dame has temporarily halted in-person instruction due to a rise in COVID-19 infections on campus. North Carolina, also in the ACC, has permanently stopped on-campus learning for the fall semester.
Wildhack said he’s in frequent conversation with the 14 other athletic directors from the conference. The COVID-19 protocols at SU have proven to be successful, he said.
“For us, it’s a reminder frankly of how fragile this all is,” Wildhack said. “It doesn’t take much to shut the entire enterprise.”
Syracuse is in a unique position in the ACC due to its location in New York, which mandates a two-week quarantine for travelers returning from COVID-19 hotspot states. Wildhack stressed that the Orange will only have essential personnel on road trips with its teams, and no one will be allowed to leave the hotel ahead of the game.
The ACC has not determined an exact time frame for testing players prior to athletic competitions, but Wildhack said discussions are underway. The conference has also discussed increasing testing frequency, but no official policy decisions have been made. The difference between high-risk and low-risk sports has not been discussed, Wildhack said.
“It looks like we’re going to increase the testing frequency, which is good,” Wildhack said.
One reason for the cancellation of both the Pac-12 and Big Ten fall athletic seasons was multiple reported cases of myocarditis, a COVID-19 complication, among athletes. “Top doctors” and cardiologists have been involved in calls conference-wide, and higher-ups have discussed potential health risks and explained them to players.
But if the ACC medical advisors were to change course, or New York state health officials were to tell them that the season couldn’t safely continue, that would mark the end of fall sports.
“The environment we live in nobody’s out of the woods yet,” Wildhack said. “Nobody is…we understand the environment we live in, we just try to progress day to day and week to week.”
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