“In March, I would have said we’d be busy, but we are now by far administratively busier than we were prior,” Fee said. “One of the biggest changes without a doubt is my staff has worked harder in the last five months than ever, and they worked hard before.”
Mitigating transmission of COVID-19 between players, Fee said, is the number one goal of the athletic department in getting players back to competing in their respective sports.
According to Fee, the main issue holding Beach athletics back from resuming is the struggle to implement rapid testing across the athletics department. With a lack of funding making it difficult to get these rapid tests, sports remain at a standstill.
“We have not been approved for activity yet,” Fee said. “We are still in a holding pattern. I’ve had discussions already with some donors on what we need for testing and funding.”
In order to safely resume competition and be in compliance with the National Collegiate Athletic Association, the athletic department will need to provide athletes and coaches with rapid testing of the virus every 72 hours, Fee said.
In the case that results come back positive, the individual who tested positive would be temporarily removed from team activity and must self-isolate, per NCAA guidelines.
However, it is up to each university in the Big West Conference to administrate and fund the testing themselves.
Because CSULB cannot afford rapid COVID-19 testing, the testing that the school has access to does not deliver results as quickly as the department would hope for. Within the Big West, almost every participating program is at a standstill when it comes to access to testing that will get them safely on the field.
“We have access through county testing and our campus, the turnaround time isn’t three days, it’s multiple,” Fee said. “But the reality is there is going to be some positive cases unfortunately.”
Another hurdle facing the athletic department is safely designing protocols for each of the 19 sports teams to resume practices.
Coaches may have to break down their teams into “cohorts” of up to six athletes who will practice and run through drills together.
Cross country head coach Shawn Winget recently had to split his squad into groups of six for the foreseeable future.
Until the spread of the virus slows, the cross country student-athletes will have to train with the same five teammates through the rest of summer, fall or even winter if the pandemic were to persist.
“Across sports people have been really open about helping one another. It’s because nobody has the perfect plan,” Fee said. “For us to ramp back up, one, we have to find things that do work and mitigate transmission and mitigate risk the best we can.”
The most difficult part about navigating the fall semester for Fee and the coaching staff lies in the solution not being a “one size fits all” scenario.
Player physicals, signing of paperwork and staying within NCAA protocol might be similar for each team, but when Fee meets with coaches to clear teams for practice, it’s a different case for each sport.
According to Fee, hosting the meetings in a safe space, taking extra sanitary precaution and staying socially distanced will assist in getting teams back on the field.
During volleyball practice, for instance, when a ball is spiked down and hits the ground, staff members will have to wipe the ball as well as the spot in which the ball hit the ground before it can be used again.
In women’s and men’s soccer, similar sanitation practices will be necessary to clean the balls after a throw-in.
When permitted to return back to on-campus practicing, Fee mentioned that student-athletes need to be ready for a completely different training format.
“We’re trying to mitigate and reduce transmission as much as possible,” Fee said. “We want to practice, but my job as athletic director is to decide if it’s the right thing to do. We’re working hard to find that solution where we can have activity.”
In July, coach Valenzuela talked with Los Angeles Angels head coach Joe Maddon on how to mitigate transmission risks and ways to be practical.
“A week ago, I talked to coach Valenzuela, who has been talking to the Angels to find out how their summer camp operated this summer at Blair field,” Fee said. “The playbook is being built right now, I’ve already teased Angels general manager Billy Eppler how do you welcome a player into the facility.”
Ignacio Cervantes and Cain Hernandez contributed to this story.