Athletes' privilege: Virginia colleges bend COVID-19 rules for March Madness players

Student-athletes in Virginia are being granted special treatment when it comes to COVID-19 quarantine periods.

The University of Virginia, Virginia Commonwealth University, and the University of Richmond require shortened quarantine periods for student-athletes so that they can travel to play in March Madness games.

For months, Campus Reform reported how punishing lockdowns and other policies imposed during the coronavirus pandemic restricted the movements and freedoms of college students across the country. 

At the University of Virginia, administrators responded to a coronavirus outbreak by cancelling all non-academic “in-person events and gatherings, on and off grounds” and requiring students to remain in their dorms except for “essential activities” like eating, going to work, or attending class.

In February, Campus Reform learned that students living on the campus of the University of California-Berkeley were only able to leave their dorms “in case of emergency, and to obtain food.” And at colleges like the University of Miami, Texas A&M University, Tulane University, and Yale University, school officials appointed student “covid cops” to surveil their classmates off-campus. 

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On Friday, Campus Reform learned that at some colleges, athletes are accorded shorter quarantines than other students. Despite cancelling all non-academic activities in February, the University of Virginia, for example, is allowing, its student-athletes to travel for games seven days after its players are quarantined. Non-student athletes must quarantine for fourteen days. 

The UVA’s men’s basketball team will fly to compete in the NCAA just one week after the players began to quarantine, according to one report. Student-athletes at Virginia Commonwealth University and the University of Richmond are benefiting from similar exemptions. 

A UVA spokesperson told the News Virginian newspaper that athletes are allowed shorter quarantine periods because they are tested for COVID-19 more often than non athlete students. 

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Virginia Tech professor of public health Lisa M. Lee described the colleges’ quarantine policy for student-athletes as risk management.

“These shorter quarantine periods do increase slightly the risk that a person is actually infected,” Lisa M. Lee told a reporter on March 19, “each program has to make the decision how much risk they can tolerate.”  

Others say the high stakes of college sports rule out subjecting student-athletes to the same rules as their classmates. 

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Campus Reform reached out to UVA, VCU, the University of Richmond, and the NCAA, which is hosting March Madness. None responded in time for publication. 

Follow the author of this article: Dion J. Pierre