Sports clubs credit improved communication from the Department of Environmental Health and Safety

Presidents of sports clubs discuss what is going on with them returning to being active on-campus while communicating with FAU officials.

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Abey Joseph

Mikey Clinton (pictured #10) gets past his defender while holding possession. Photo courtesy of the FAU Men’s Lacrosse club.

Richard Pereira, Sports Editor

Sports clubs have been waiting for the green light to get back to being active on campus since the Fall 2020 semester.

After months of silence, the Department of Environmental Health and Safety (EHS) started communicating with them in March.

What was going on before

Joey Zammataro, president of FAU Men’s Lacrosse, said that the club decided they were going to practice off-campus going into the fall semester, but it became an issue with the school because it went against their guidelines for COVID-19.

“As a student organization, we have to abide by EHS’s rules,” Zammataro said. “Whenever we want to do anything on [or off] campus as a group for an event, we must submit a huge form to the Recreation Center and that goes through a bunch of people including EHS now.”

When asked why sports clubs are not allowed to be active off-campus, EHS director Wendy Ash Graves said that the FAU COVID-19 plans apply to all FAU faculty, staff, and students for FAU-sponsored activities regardless of location. “This has been applied universally across all academic, business, and recreational activities sponsored by FAU,” she said.

Adrianna Fini, president of FAU Women’s Lacrosse, explained that the club had no option to come back at all during the fall semester as sports clubs were placed in categories of low-level, medium-level, and high-level risks. 

“So lacrosse, both men and women, were high-level so we did not hear anything,” Fini said. “We were all online and then towards the end of December [or] early January, the low-risk sports started being approved but so far, we haven’t been approved yet.”

According to Graves, sports clubs that are low-risk have had their plans approved by the department.

“Plans are approved based on alignment with current university requirements regarding COVID-19. When such restrictions are no longer necessary, the university will encourage resumption of those activities,” Graves said. “Plans which were not in alignment with university requirements for COVID-19 or for sports determined to be intermediate or high-risk were not approved.”

Graves said that EHS borrowed from the risk classifications published by the National Collegiate Athletic Association in guidelines called Resocialization of Collegiate Sport and used their CDC-based safety triad which includes three things: the ability to maintain face coverings, physical distancing, and hand hygiene.

Essentially, the level of activity (exertion), close proximity of participants, shared equipment, and ability to wear face coverings during the activity were the determining factors of risk classifications between high, intermediate, and low,” Graves said.

Tatum Meder, president of the Women’s Soccer Club, stated that while she hasn’t been in direct contact with EHS, university staff notified them via email in mid-September that they couldn’t be active on campus and as a result, it has been difficult for the club to recruit new members. 

“I’ve had certain people reach out through email and connect to me through there and we actually had a few of the girls sign up when we were tabling for Owl Involved,” Meder said. “We got a few people from there which was nice but again, it wasn’t very populated on campus so it was difficult for that.”

Meder stated that the university has mostly been communicating with them through email while giving additional information through virtual meetings on Zoom throughout the 2020-21 academic year.

“In order to be active on campus with the assistance from FAU, sports clubs are now able to create an alternate conditioning/return-to-play form. This form allows for sports clubs to create a plan that is safe according to FAU’s COVID safety guidelines,” Meder said. “This form was and still is being reviewed by the sport council members who have also given feedback as to whether or not the plan should be altered based on COVID safety guidelines.”

The university made return-to-practice plans available in the fall semester for sports clubs to submit to start the transition of coming back on campus. According to Zammataro, when he submitted the form, which consisted of a 60-70 slide PowerPoint showing how the club will follow COVID-19 guidelines and protect each other as a team, EHS almost immediately said they weren’t going to look at it until mid-spring of 2021.

Photo courtesy of the FAU Men’s Lacrosse club via OwlCentral.

Zammataro explained that if they were to participate on campus as a club after getting their event request denied, EHS or the school could penalize them for doing so, which he believes is unfair.

“This could involve suspension, which means our club can get suspended for two weeks and we’re not allowed to be active,” Zammataro said. “Although COVID has already stopped that, we could go from tier A to tier B, which is our tiering in terms of the rec, and how funding goes and how on what level of standard we are in terms of the sports clubs for the school.”

Zammataro understood their decision to not approve their plans due to the risk of COVID-19 and they’re trying to help stop the spread but believes it to be unfair when the football team gets to participate and play on campus because they’re an NCAA-affiliated team and bring money to the school.

“Now we are a student organization and we don’t necessarily bring money into the school, but we’re a huge part of student participation and activity on campus. We wanted everybody to come to our games and hang out. It’s just a huge part of our life on campus that we participate in,” Zammataro said.

Graves deferred to Conference USA, the conference FAU is a member of, as they specified very strict guidelines from the NCAA for conditioning, practice, and competition, all under the supervision of coaches and other athletics support staff.

According to Graves, it’s under a fully monitored schedule with physical distancing, sanitation, use of face coverings, contact tracing, and frequent COVID-19 testing. “Since these requirements were enforced by the conference, all competition was with other teams under the same protocols,” she said.

Aside from the nature of the sport, there are significant differences between conference athletics and sports clubs,” Graves said. “Club sports do not have conference regulations which would ensure the safety of the players and much of the club sports are not organized or supervised by FAU.”

Fini said that their reasoning was it was a liability to let sports clubs be active on campus, especially if some of the players got sick.

“[There’s] a fear factor that it could become worse if more people were together,” Fini said. There is any risk of us playing, we share gear, and you’re close to the contact sport. It’s a high-level chance that if one [person] has it, a lot of [people] are going to get it.”

Meder stated that the guidelines are strict in regards to how many people and that it’s not impossible to socially distance but it gets difficult because games can’t be played.

Photo courtesy of the FAU Women’s Soccer club via OwlCentral.

“I think it would be possible to practice and keep and maintain a distance because especially with soccer, you’re not touching the ball; you’d only be using your feet. But I get why there are complications with that as well,” Meder said.

Meder said her club’s plan was rejected even though they tried to make it as elaborate and detailed as possible and how they would social distance, sanitize all of the shared materials, and maintain protocols.

“They denied it because soccer is a high-risk sport but we just had the opportunity to resubmit a return-to-play form for this semester, which has been nice but I haven’t heard back from that yet,” Meder said. “It’s a matter of if they’re more lenient now and if things are a little bit better.”

Graves stated that sports clubs who submit their plans that are deemed intermediate or high-level risk by the department can perform low-risk activities such as distanced conditioning and training. According to her, sports clubs should expect a rapid return to normal play when the CDC relaxes restrictions on the wearing of face coverings and/or physical distancing.

Fini thought it was a good idea to hold everything off until things got in order but felt it was taking longer than expected.

“At this point, most teams have put in a return-to-play practice plan for COVID, so I feel like if we could just get them approved, then we get the ball rolling,” Fini said. “I don’t think it was a bad idea to stop practices, but I think it’s just taking a little longer than I thought.”

Meder said it is saddening to not be able to play but agreed that it was the right decision by FAU, especially during the fall semester.

“Now, I think since things have been getting better and that FAU has established really strict protocols, numbers have been going down and people have been abiding by the rules on campus,” Meder said. “I think that we can take that first step into at least being able to practice or getting small groups to get to know new members and things like that to start getting the club going again.”

 

What’s going on now

Graves attended one of the sports club council meetings in March to communicate with the clubs there and help them out with their transition to returning to being active on campus.

“She was super awesome and very nice, cooperative, and helpful,” Zammataro said. “Any questions that we had she answered and they finally thought it was time to start going over alternate practice plans.”

Instead of having one plan dictate whether certain sports clubs can go back to being active on campus, there will now be two plans for every sports club to submit: an alternate practice plan and the return-to-play plan.

According to Zammataro, alternate practice plans are approved by EHS as it states that clubs can return to practicing on campus while following COVID-19 guidelines. Return-to-play plans allow sports clubs to return to normal play once restrictions on hosting and traveling start getting lifted.

“As of now, sports clubs, whether they travel or host events, are allowed to host events for members only,” Zammataro said. “You’re not allowed to have other teams from out-of-state come in or non-affiliated members with your club come.” 

Zammataro admits it was challenging because they didn’t feel at first that their voices were being heard and he also was unaware of who to contact to get a hold of to answer his questions. Thanks to Graves, they can now progress with getting back to practice.

“They have been a lot more helpful and seem to reach out more to the students, which has been awesome,” Zammataro said. “Our main priority though is not only to focus on just getting back to practice but also to make sure that we’re doing our part, making sure that everyone’s safe because we understand that we’re only a small part of the school.”

According to Zammataro, EHS is currently focusing on the alternate practice plans as he said it takes about three weeks for an event to be approved by them and the recreation center. “That’s how it is normally, even without COVID restrictions and this whole pandemic,” he said.

Fini gave credit to Jamie Flood, who advises the sports clubs and the recreation center, as they worked hard to have a meeting with EHS and have a meeting with all the sports clubs so that they could approve all the return-to-practice plans at once.

Photo courtesy of the FAU Women’s Lacrosse club via OwlCentral.

“The EHS had a meeting with every sports team and they went over every return-to-practice plan they had an issue with,” Fini said. “I also think that last semester we didn’t have any vaccines or any real classes back on campus, so returning to play wasn’t a top priority for the EHS committee.”

Zammataro also sent his thanks to Flood and the recreation center. He then thanked Graves for being there to help them if they had questions about following COVID-19 guidelines and alternate practice plans.

“We know that it’s been a tough year for everyone, not only including us,” Zammataro said. “But if everyone continues to just follow the rules for a little bit longer, keep safe, and keep going, then hopefully within the next year, a more normal student life will continue to appear in students’ lives.”

Graves stressed the importance for sports clubs to communicate with their FAU department with oversight over club sports so they can find details regarding what activities have been approved, how to develop a plan, and how to begin conditioning and workout activities.

“Planning can be conducted at any time and is essential for a smooth return-to-play when it is safe to do so,” Graves said.

According to Graves, while several plans for conditioning and workout activities have been approved, some clubs have not submitted their plans yet and haven’t been active in the monthly meetings sports clubs have with one another. 

“We encourage clubs to participate in the activities that are currently being approved in preparation for the future when club sports can return to normal,” Graves said.

Zammataro wants people to understand that although not every sports club or student organization has the same goals, some student organizations are for people to hang out and meet more people like you and make friends and socialize on campus and some others have goals.

“I want students to understand that we have somewhat of a voice, and can try to take action as best as we can to fight for this,” Zammataro said. “For students who care like me, whether it’s for Greek life, for sports clubs, or anything on-campus [like] tabling, tutoring, anything in-person, I want to do my best to try and get everything back to normal. If the student has a voice and can do whatever they can, then I want to try and help whenever I can.”

Fini wants to let people know that they’re trying to be safe under COVID-19 guidelines and not get anyone sick as a result.

“We’re gonna follow the plans that we put in place for safety reasons and just because we want to play,” Fini said. “We don’t want to be in trouble, we don’t want to be put on any kind of probation. And honestly, we just love our sport and we just want to get back to playing.”

Richard Pereira is the Sports Editor for the University Press. For information regarding this or other stories, email [email protected] or tweet him @Rich26Pereira.