All Georgia football, basketball players will be tested for coronavirus

Georgia sports medicine director Ron Courson.

Credit: Knight Commission

Credit: Knight Commission

Georgia sports medicine director Ron Courson.

Georgia football players and all athletes returning to campus on June 8 will be tested for COVID-19.

That's going a step above what was required by the SEC in its decision Friday to allow those student-athletes back on school campuses for training. The league mandated only a three-stage screening process and requires testing only for "symptomatic" athletes.

But UGA Sports Medicine Director Ron Courson, who detailed his plans in a release sent out by the school late Friday afternoon, said testing would be done up front for all of Georgia’s athletes, which includes 87 scholarship football players and another 30 men’s and women’s basketball players.

“We will conduct COVID testing and perform medical evaluations on all student-athletes and they must be medically cleared prior to any physical activity,” Courson said. “We will identify any student-athletes and staff who may be more vulnerable due to existing health conditions and ensure that we have an individualized plan of care for their safe return to sport or work based upon medical guidance.”

The SEC's 14 presidents and chancellors voted Friday to allow athletes in football and men's and women's basketball to return to campuses for physical training. The SEC canceled all spring sports March 13 because of the coronavirus pandemic and closed all athletic facilities through May 31.

“First and foremost, our focus is on health and safety,” Courson wrote. “We are taking a collaborative approach that involves public health, community health-care system, sports medicine, sports performance, sports nutrition, and sport coaches working together to develop a plan and ensure each student-athlete has an individualized plan for return.”

Georgia coach Kirby Smart and members of his staff will be allowed to return to their offices next week.

“We’re excited to now know when players can begin returning to campus,” Smart said in a statement. “… The primary focus is on health and safety of our student-athletes and those working directly with them during this time. We’ll be working in the coming days on finalizing plans to implement the return of our players. I’m sure they are looking forward to returning and begin working toward what we hope is a regular season in the fall.”

All indications are that the college football season, which for the Bulldogs would begin Sept. 7 against Virginia at Mercedes-Benz Stadium, will begin as scheduled. That may or may not include fans in the stands and assumes there is not a spike in cases related to the coronavirus.

Georgia players have been having to train at their homes and local gyms on plans communicated to them by UGA strength-and-conditioning coordinator Scott Sinclair. They were able to train on campus for about six weeks before being sent home.

As a result, they'll be eased back into daily workouts and closely monitored upon returning in three weeks.

“Our student-athletes have had an unprecedented layoff from sports and we have to be smart about how we progress back to activity during this ‘transition period,’” Courson wrote. “Our strength-and-conditioning, return-to-sport plan will be based off national consensus guidelines developed by a joint task force with representatives from the National Strength and Conditioning Association and the Collegiate Strength and Conditioning Coaches Association. It involves starting with a reduced volume of work and modified work-rest ratios with a gradual increase, allowing the student-athletes to acclimate to both the environment with heat and humidity as well as building up exercise tolerance.”

Courson has also helped Georgia develop an enhanced cleaning and disinfection regimen that will include spraying the practice fields after use and cleaning of workout equipment immediately after use.

“There are many details still to be determined on every campus,” Georgia Athletic Director Greg McGarity said. “We’ll certainly be driven by the medical community and our sports medicine staff led by Ron Courson. Guidelines and enhanced health and safety measures will be followed to the letter. Again, this is only the first step.”

Courson, Georgia's sports medicine director since 1995, is a past chairman of the National Athletic Trainers’ Association and one of the most-respected trainers in college athletics. He was appointed to the SEC's specially-formed Medical Guidance Task Force last month and their suggestions to the SEC presidents were critical to them favoring bringing athletes back to campus.

That “provided the presidents with thoughtful analysis, which helped inform our decision,” UGA President Jere Morehead said.

» More AJC coverage of the coronavirus outbreak