LOUISVILLE, Ky. (KT) -- The more the coronavirus pandemic surges both in the local region and across the nation on college and professional sports teams the more incredible it becomes that Louisville's football team -- with a roster of more than 85 players -- has been able to avoid infection.
Two sports with far fewer athletes, men's basketball, and men's and women's swimming and diving, had to shut down for two weeks last month due to a combined five positive tests, and Tuesday afternoon the school announced that four more sports must suspend workouts.
UofL paused all team-related activities as of Monday for the fall sports of men's and women's soccer teams, field hockey and volleyball after 29 athletes in the programs tested positive for Covid-19. In a release, the school also said multiple other teammates and student-athletes from other sports were potentially exposed to the virus and remain in quarantine due to contact tracing. UofL doesn't release names of those who test positive.
The primary source of the positive tests was traced to a party at an off-campus apartment complex Saturday night, UofL athletics director Vince Tyra said, adding that he was disappoined and frustrated by the athletes' careless behavior. At first, eight athletes tested positive on Monday, but that number had swelled to 29 by Wednesday.
Members of the four programs who have not tested positive, or been identified through contact tracing, will be allowed to return to workouts on campus beginning next Monday. Just last week Tyra said the school had conducted over 700 tests and uncovered only 16 positives, 13 athletes and three staff members.
"We're going to follow the protocols related to their care and return to competition as is appropriate," Tyra said during a teleconference with reporters Wednesday afternoon, referring to the 29. "But we've noted from the very beginning that we have a strong commitment from our medical and administrative staff, and the athletic department, that we expect to be met with the same commitment from our student-athletes and unfortunately we've had a failure in the recent week to do so.
"We'll continue to educate, re-educate them on the overall and specific risks related to activities, such as wearing a mask and washing their hands. Our staff remains committed to their care as you can imagine. It goes without saying that I'm incredibly disappointed and frustrated today with what's occurred."
Tyra said that attendance at the off-campus party was clearly a violation of protocols in place to enhance safety of the student-athletes, staff and other students. He said that continued disregard of such protocols could lead to discipline. He said he met with coaches on Tuesday and had a "stronger" meeting with student-athlete leaders on Wednesday to make it plain that he expected better.
"There's a Code of Conduct issues related to their teams, and how their coaches and how they handle it, and the athletic department values," Tyra said. "There's certainly University Code of Conduct issues that we are reiterating to them. But if you've got repeat offenders who continue to ignore any team policies, we've always had the option to discipline up to dismissal."
Tyra said his meeting with the athletes was to "make them aware and enlist their assistance in communicating the need to follow those protocols and meet expectations of their conduct outside of the oversight of athletic staff. It was an apologetic and somber group.
"The student-athletes realize that they have let themselves down as well as the student health and performance team that is working tirelessly around the clock all summer and through today especially to care for them. I'll tell you, we have invested a great deal of resources financially and in the bandwidth of our talent to produce a successful result, and this shows how quickly, how fragile things can be if we don't heed to the precautions of the virus and to our medical experts."
FOOTBALL CAMP GOING SMOOTHLY
Meanwhile, UofL's football players completed their second day of fall practice without any apparent problems. From all accounts, things have gone smoothly so far. Of course, it's still more than a month away from the season opener, which will take place the week of Sept. 7-13 against an ACC team to be named later. The ACC is expected to release the revised schedules for its schools within the next week or so.
"Obviously, you think about it," offensive lineman Robbie Bell said Wednesday of the virus and its risks. "It's in the sports news on radio and TV, and our entire camp schedule is built around trying to limit contact as much as you can playing football. So obviously you're going to think about it.
"But we're trusting our training and health care staffs that the protocols put in place are what's best for us. That's all we can do is trust in that and then try to go about our business as reguarly as we can.
"It hasn't been too terribly different from what we've done in past years. We practice the same, it's just that we've been forced to wear masks and when we take water breaks or something we have to kind of keep our distance from each other. The main difference is really during camp you're usually here from early in the morning til late at night, but you have break times throughout the day.
"Now our schedule is condensed to where we're not getting any breaks but we're getting done earlier than we normally ever would. Usually you would get an hour break here, 45 minutes there, an hour and a half. It's more of a faster-paced schedule that allows us to finish earlier in the day."
Bell said the players are just happy to be able to get out on the field and start preparing for a season they hope doesn't eventually get cancelled. And that goes for the coaches too.
"It's therapy for the coaches, I know it is for me," offfensive coordinator Dwayne Ledford said. "Being back around the guys, seeing them smile, being back with your (position) group. It's totally different, the way we have to handle everything, but just to be around them, be on the football field, be in the element that we all love to be a part of is fun."
Following the first day of practice Tuesday, head coach Scott Satterfield said the Cards are about where they should be at this time despite missing half of their spring practice after it was cancelled due to the pandemic. Satterfield said most of the experienced players who reported to campus in June showed up in good shape. And, of course, they have a good grasp of the offensive and defensive schemes, depending on their unit, after a season under the same staff.
"Our top 40 guys did an outstanding job," Satterfield said. "They are where they need to be. The next 40 to 50 guys, that's where we have to get better. That's the depth and newcomers who aren't experienced with what practice is like and all of that. I'm pleased where we are right now with everything that has been going on the last three or four months."
Russ Brown, a former sportswriter for The Courier-Journal and USA Today, covers University of Louisville sports and college football and basketball for Kentucky Today. He can be contacted at email@example.com.