Football quietly returned last week in the United States for the first time since the coronavirus pandemic began.
The Spring League, a developmental enterprise made up of former college and professional players, conducted a four-day showcase that ended Friday with a controlled scrimmage -- and without any known exposures to the virus.
A total of 85 players and another 25 staff members and medical personnel participated in the event in Glendale, Colorado, according to Brian Woods, chief executive officer of The Spring League. No one involved reported symptoms or failed daily temperature checks during the camp or since it ended, Woods said. The purpose of the camp was to provide players with fresh tape for NFL and CFL scouts to evaluate. All participants signed waivers and were required to provide proof of a negative coronavirus test within four days of reporting to camp.
There was no on-site testing. Because of the virus' 14-day incubation period, it is still possible that positive tests could result from the camp. But Woods said he is confident that a series of protocols minimized the risk involved.
"I was very realistic of the expectations and the involvement of all of this," Woods said. "It's a [contagious] virus and football is a contact sport. But I also felt like this could be a good example, based on the protocol we outlined. If we had issues with it in a four-day camp, then I thought, man this would be a good sign for the NFL or even college football for that matter. We were very fortunate that we have not."
The Spring League's coronavirus protocol was developed in conjunction with Dr. Paul Auerbach, a professor at the Stanford University School of Medicine. It included:
A 14-day self-quarantine before camp, with masks worn outside of the home.
All meetings via video conference, with one exception: three quarterbacks and one coach met in a large hotel conference room.
Daily symptom and temperature checks.
Hotels within walking distance of the practice facility.
Field markings for drills that capped participation to 25 people.
Elimination of high-contact drills such as inside-run periods.
One day of 11-on-11 drills.
Coaches wore masks during practice.
Nearly a dozen nurses and athletic trainers on-site whose jobs included reminders on social distancing.
Two players and one staff member withdrew shortly before the camp because of possible exposure to the virus. If any participant had presented with symptoms or a temperature greater than 100.4, or both, the entire camp would have been dismissed, Woods said.
"I was dreading the day that we came in and one player was over 100.4," he said. "Our protocol called for that player to immediately be prohibited from entering the facility, and he would have to seek a test. We were hard-pressed to find a rapid-testing center there, so we would have had to wait at least 36 hours. So we were very fortunate that none of our players presented with symptoms or answered yes to any of the daily screening questions."
The Spring League is in the early planning stages of another series of practices and possibly games for the fall. Woods said one idea is to gather in a "bubble" environment on a military base.