As Karl Dorrell met with Pac-12 media on Wednesday afternoon for a virtual press conference, he was less than 48 hours away from his first practice as the head coach of the Colorado football team.
That’s his hope, anyway.
Teams around the Pac-12 can open preseason practices on Friday, with the season openers set for Nov. 7. CU, however, is still waiting to get clearance from Boulder County Public Health (BCPH).
“We’re hopeful that we can get clearance to have practice on Friday, but we don’t know for sure yet,” Dorrell said.
The decision on whether to allow the Buffaloes to practice will go down to the wire.
On Wednesday, BCPH announced that an order, issued Sept. 24, to halt all gatherings of 18-to-22-year-olds in Boulder in an effort to control the spread of the coronavirus, will expire at noon Thursday. The board of health did approve two new orders, however, which scale back the restrictions.
The new orders, which go into effect Thursday at noon, would still prevent CU from conducting a normal football practice, but CU’s athletics department submitted a plan to BCPH that could allow them to be exempt from the guidelines.
“They have submitted plans and that’s what they’re required to do in terms of how they’re going to assure control of the spread and what would happen when there is spread that’s occurring,” said Jeff Zayach, the executive director of BCPH. “We have received those plans and we anticipate being able to respond to those plans within the next 24 hours.”
Last month, the Pac-12 Conference secured a deal with Quidel Corporation that will provide daily, rapid-results testing. That deal was called a “game-changer” by Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott and contributed significantly to the conference announcing a return to competition.
With the tests now available, CU can quickly quarantine anyone who tests positive and reduce the amount of required contact tracing. That will help to prevent a large spread.
“I am very confident about the policy and the procedures that the Pac-12 has adopted to return to intercollegiate athletics,” CU chancellor Phil DiStefano said Wednesday.
Patrick O’Rourke, CU’s interim executive vice chancellor and chief operating officer, said the Buffaloes have used the Pac-12’s COVID-19 guidelines as a “baseline.”
“CU athletics has actually put in a very stringent series of test requirements for student-athletes as a condition to be able to return to competition,” O’Rourke said. “We are working with the county and have submitted those protocols to the county so that they can review them. We’ve been engaging in regular testing and other requirements for the student-athletes. We’re seeing a really low positivity rate for them and are prepared to work with the county and have them make sure that from an epidemiological standpoint that they would be comfortable as we return to competition and practice.”
Prior to the BCPH order on Sept. 24, the Buffs had been working out in cohort groups and conducting some on-field workouts and walkthroughs. Since then, Dorrell said the Buffs have done as much as they can to stay ready.
“We’ve been doing individual workouts for the last week and a half,” he said. “That was what was allowed. This week on Monday, we still had to partner up the workouts with just two guys, but we could go in pockets of 10 in a group, but there was only two that would train in a socially-distanced manner from each other that were partners.
“We’ve been operating under the guidelines of what Boulder County has specified for us to do. We want to do what’s right for our community, our university and obviously the health and safety and welfare of our student-athletes.”
If Boulder County doesn’t allow the Buffs to start practice on Friday, Dorrell said there has been discussion for alternate training locations, but no plans have been made.
“What we’re really trying to do, in a nutshell, is operate completely under the ordinance of what the Boulder County Health people want us to do, which is what we’ve been doing, and showing our support for that and acting in good faith with that and gradually, hopefully, getting to the next step,” he said. “We’ve been working each and every day with Boulder County, giving them all the reports and all the things we’ve been doing. They’ve been very pleased with us being stewards of operating under their guidelines and we’re going to continue to do that, because want to do what’s right. We want to do what’s right here in Boulder County and do it in a way that’s going to give us a chance to line up and play this next month.”