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The Sports Report: COVID rules could adversely impact USC and UCLA football teams

USC receiver Gary Bryant Jr. avoids a tackle by UCLA's RJ Lopez during a 2020 game.
(Associated Press)

Howdy, I’m your host, Houston Mitchell. Let’s get right to the news.

Ryan Kartje on local college football: After a difficult year disrupted by stringent restrictions and ever-changing protocols, the promise of a college football season largely unburdened by the pandemic was a powerful incentive as USC urged its football players to get the COVID-19 vaccine this summer.

The message during USC’s vaccination drive was clear: Getting the vaccine was the first step in clearing a path back to normal on campus and in college athletics. For vaccinated athletes, there would be no surveillance testing, no masking, no quarantining. Only the unvaccinated would be forced to relive the frustrating realities of the 2020 season, when one positive test could send a program into a spiral.

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That remained the case as the USC football team’s vaccination rate climbed past 90% in late July. Last week, USC coach Clay Helton announced 119 players were fully vaccinated — of 124 listed on the official roster — while the only holdouts had received medical or religious exemptions to be compliant with the university’s vaccine requirements.

But in the weeks between, as the Delta variant spread across the country, assurances of a less restrictive season for vaccinated players began to evaporate. Masks returned, as did surveillance testing. And then, on Aug. 6, L.A. County public health officials sent out new, stricter guidelines for universities that sent some within USC’s athletic department into a panic.

Under guidelines that were briefly in place before they were updated, vaccinated students exposed to COVID-19 would be subject to a modified quarantine of three to five days. The guidelines applied only to college students in L.A. County — not university staff — and still allowed for said students to attend “on-campus classes and academic activities if they are consistently and correctly masked and remain asymptomatic.”

But while vaccinated college athletes in the county could attend indoor classes, any exposure to COVID-19 would leave them unable to play in — or attend — any team practices, training or competition, leaving both USC and UCLA at risk of another football season interrupted by the pandemic — even as both programs’ vaccination rates significantly exceeded the national average.

An uproar at both schools ultimately led county health officials to loosen the guidelines last week, but not before several USC players were forced to quarantine for stretches of preseason camp. The updated rules, published Aug. 24, now allow for vaccinated athletes exposed to COVID-19 to continue taking part in practice and competition as long as they remain asymptomatic and test negative for five consecutive days.

Even with the modifications, the policy is among the strictest in the country for vaccinated college athletes. One university official said that they believed USC and UCLA were the only two Football Bowl Subdivision programs subject to such rules for vaccinated athletes.

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DODGERS

Jorge Castillo on the Dodgers: On most nights this season, before he returned from a second stint on the injured list last week, Mookie Betts probably doesn’t score from first base on the double Corey Seager ripped into the gap in right-center field Tuesday night. He doesn’t sprint around the bases for the go-ahead run and the Dodgers might not win emerge with a 3-2 win over the Atlanta Braves.

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But Betts said he was pain free when he returned from the injured list last week. He said the bone spur in his right hip, the source of the discomfort that hampered him for the season’s first four months, wouldn’t be a problem after a second cortisone shot erased the pain.

Time will tell whether that remains true for the reminder of the season, but Betts didn’t appear hindered Tuesday. The star right fielder delivered a three-pronged performance, clubbing his second home run in two nights and robbing a homer in addition to his riveting sprint around the bases, which he concluded with headfirst slide and a moment on his stomach to catch his breath.

“That’s Mookie,” starter Walker Buehler said. “That’s why he’s here.”

On the mound, Buehler produced another standout performance for his Cy Young resume, holding the Braves to two runs over seven innings. The outing was needed to keep the Dodgers (84-49) within striking distance; Charlie Morton held them to one run across six innings.

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With the win, the Dodgers moved within a half-game of the first-place San Francisco Giants, who lost to Milwaukee Brewers, in the National League West with 29 games to go. It’s the closest the Dodgers have been to first place since July 6.

ANGELS

Jack Harris on the Angels: The Angels got big hits from Jared Walsh and Phil Gosselin. A big steal from Shohei Ohtani. Big plays from the infield defense. And big outs from a shorthanded bullpen.

It all added up to a 6-4 defeat of the New York Yankees on Tuesday, clinching the Angels third straight victory and their first series win against a team with a winning record in almost two months.

The Angels already had a 5-2 lead in the fifth — thanks to a three-run home run from Walsh and two-run single from Gosselin — by the time Ohtani found himself standing at third base.

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Gosselin, who was on first base with two out, broke for second after a swing and miss by Jared Walsh, sliding in well before a throw from catcher Gary Sanchez. As Sanchez released the ball, Ohtani — who had originally taken a step back toward third — then sprinted toward the plate.

Shortstop Gio Urshela caught the ball and immediately fired it back home, initially seeming to beat Ohtani by a couple steps. Sanchez, however, lost his balance after making the catch and couldn’t apply a tag on Ohtani, who avoided Sanchez’s glove to touch the plate safely.

RAMS

Gary Klein on the Rams: Throughout his career, punter Johnny Hekker has reworked his contract numerous times to create salary-cap space that enabled the Rams to keep or sign other high-priced players.

On Tuesday, the four-time All-Pro restructured his deal to ensure he would remain with the Rams for a 10th season.

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With teams trimming rosters to 53 players, the Rams ended their most high-profile position battle by trading punter Corey Bojorquez to the Green Bay Packers and keeping Hekker.

Terms of the trade were not disclosed, but the Rams sent Bojorquez and a 2023 seventh-round draft pick to Green Bay in exchange for a 2023 sixth-round pick, according to a person with knowledge of the situation not authorized to speak publicly.

Waived/released: DB Brontae Harris, OL Jeremiah Kolone, WR Jeremiah Haydel, OL Jordan Meredith, DB Donovan Olumba, DB Troy Warner, WR Landen Akers, RB Otis Anderson, DT Eric Banks, TE Kendall Blanton, OT Chandler Brewer, DE Earnest Brown IV, DT Marquise Copeland, DE John Daka, DB Dont’e Deayon, DB Jake Gervase , DB Tyler Hall, WR Trishton Jackson, LB Micah Kiser, WR J.J. Koski, LB Justin Lawler, DB Kareem Orr, OT Max Pircher, LB Christian Rozeboom

Waived/injured: RB Xavier Jones

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Reserve/suspended: RB Cam Akers

Reserve/COVID: OG Coleman Shelton

CHARGERS

Jeff Miller on the Chargers: The series of roster moves the Chargers made Tuesday did not include anything involving Trey Pipkins, the still-developing tackle who struggled mightily during the preseason.

Coach Brandon Staley said the team continues to believe in Pipkins and explained that Pipkins has earned additional time.

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“There are still aspects of his game that certainly need improvement,” Staley said. “But we felt like he’s been invested in trying to improve. … We just felt like, for now, he’s a player that we can still hang with. We feel like he’s earned that with us, with how he’s invested in his game.”

Pipkins was a surprise draft pick in 2019 when the Chargers took him in the third round out of Sioux Falls.

Waived/released: K Michael Badgley, WR Michael Bandy, OLB Davin Bellamy, RB Darius Bradwell. CB John Brannon III, DL Cortez Broughton. LB Cole Christiansen, DB Ben DeLuca, LB Nate Evans. OLB Emeke Egbule, DL Breiden Fehoko, OLB Joe Gaziano, G Nate Gilliam, WR Darius Harper. G Ryan Hunter, WR John Hurst, WR Tyron Johnson, TE Hunter Kampmoyer, OLB Jessie Lemonier, WR Jason Moore Jr. WR Joe Reed, CB KJ Sails, TE Matt Sokol, CB Donte Vaughn, DL Willie Yarbary.

SPARKS

Kelsey Mitchell scored 25 points, Teaira McCowan added 15 — including two free throws to cap the scoring with 15.3 seconds to play — and tied her career high with 19 rebounds and the Indiana Fever beat the Sparks 74-72 on Tuesday night.

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Nneka Ogwumike made two free throws to give the Sparks a 72-64 lead with 3:05 left, but Indiana (6-19) closed the game on a 10-0 run. Mitchell hit a long jumper and, after McCowan made 3 of 4 from the free-throw line, a three-pointer — her fourth of the game to make it 72-all with 1:19 remaining. The teams traded misses before Jessica Breland stole the ball from Ogwumike to set up McCowan’s go-ahead free throws.

USC FOOTBALL

Ryan Kartje on the Trojans: After missing most of the preseason with a nagging hamstring injury, there was hope that USC sophomore receiver Gary Bryant would rejoin the offense in time for Saturday’s opener against San Jose State.

But that hope disappeared during Tuesday’s practice, when USC coach Clay Helton announced that Bryant had entered COVID-19 health and safety protocols.

A former four-star recruit who had seven receptions last season, Bryant was expected ahead of fall to step into one of USC’s top three receiver spots. But after dealing with soft tissue injuries his freshman season, Bryant was held out through most of camp because of a hamstring issue. Last week, prior to his addition to health and safety protocols, Helton called Bryant “probable” for the opener.

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UCLA FOOTBALL

Check out out live blog for all the up-to-the-minute news on the upcoming UCLA-LSU game. Click here to read.

PARALYMPICS

Former Dorsey High athlete Breanna Clark won gold in the women’s 400 meters T20 at the Paralympics in Tokyo, breaking the world record in 55.18 seconds. The previous world record was 55.19.

Clark won gold in the same event in the 2016 Paralympics in Rio de Janeiro.

TENNIS

Helene Elliott on tennis: Ranked No. 1 in the world, Ashleigh Barty began play at this year’s U.S. Open with an impeccable first set but had to claw through the second set for a 6-1, 7-6 (7) victory over Vera Zvonareva of Russia at Arthur Ashe Stadium. Barty had some fine moments but also some lapses, and she probably gained more match sharpness from fighting for the win than if she had continued to impose her will at ease.

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“Vera, without a doubt, she’s an experienced campaigner, and she understood what she was doing in the first set wasn’t working for her and she was able to adapt and to change that,” Barty said. “I think in the first set, I served exceptionally well. She was a little bit loose off her racket, and she gave me a few cheapies. And in the second, the 2-1 game serving and 5-4 game serving I just played two poor service games. She was able to take advantage of some second serves and a few cheapies from my end.”

No. 4 seed Alexander Zverev of Germany, who won gold in the Tokyo Olympic tennis tournament, extended his winning streak to 12 with a solid 6-4, 7-5, 6-2 victory over Sam Querrey of Agoura Hills in a first-round match.
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Holger Vitus Nodskov Rune lost but won U.S. Open hearts against Novak Djokovic

LAFC

Kevin Baxter on LAFC: Forward Diego Rossi, the reigning MLS scoring champion, is nearing a deal to leave LAFC for Fenerbahce of the Turkish Super Lig, the first move in what could be a dramatic overhaul for the club.

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Fenerbahce said it had reached an agreement in principle to acquire Rossi on loan, pending a physical. Rossi left for Istanbul on Monday to finalize the deal and a formal announcement was expected Tuesday, Turkish time, but that did not happen.

LAFC did not respond Tuesday to calls seeking comment.

THIS DATE IN SPORTS

1923 — The United States wins its fourth consecutive Davis Cup by beating Australia four matches to one.

1946 — Patty Berg wins the U.S. Women’s Open golf title by beating Betty Jameson in the final round.

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1971 — John Newcombe becomes the first top-seeded man to lose in the first round of the U.S. Open when he loses to Jan Kodes, 2-6, 7-6, 7-6, 6-3.

1973 — George Foreman knocks out Jose Roman at 2:00 of the first round in Tokyo to retain the heavyweight title.

1977 — Renee Richards, the 43-year-old transsexual who fought for more than a year for the right to play in the women’s singles of a major tennis championship, is beaten in the first round by Virginia Wade, 6-1, 6-4. Tracy Austin, at the age of 14 years, eight months, 20 days, becomes the youngest player to play in the U.S. Open, defeating Heidi Eisterlehner, 3-6, 6-3, 6-1, in the first round. Austin’s mark is broken in 1979 by 14-year-old Kathy Horvath.

1984 — Willie Totten of Mississippi Valley State passes for a Division I-AA record 536 yards and nine touchdowns in a 86-0 rout of Kentucky State. Jerry Rice catches 17 passes for 294 yards and five touchdowns and breaks his own Division I-AA record for receiving yards.

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1987 — Fifteen-year-old Michael Chang beats Paul McNamee, 6-3, 6-7, 6-4, 6-4, to become the youngest man to win a match at the U.S. Open.

1989 — Chris Evert becomes the first 100-match winner in 108 years of U.S. tennis championships. Evert, playing her final U.S. Open, beat Patricia Tarabini 6-2, 6-4.

1993 — Goran Ivanisevic and Daniel Nestor play the longest tie-break in the history of the U.S. Open (38 points). Ivanisevic wins the first-round match 6-4, 7-6 (5), 7-6 (18).

1998 — Mark McGwire breaks Hack Wilson’s 68-year-old National League record for home runs in a season, hitting his 56th and 57th in the St. Louis Cardinals’ victory over the Florida Marlins.

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2007 — Appalachian State 34, No. 5 Michigan 32. Julian Rauch’s 24-yard field goal with 26 seconds left puts the Mountaineers ahead of the Wolverines and Corey Lynch blocks a field goal in the final seconds to seal one of college football’s biggest upsets.

2012 — Eureka (Ill.) College quarterback Sam Durley passes for 736 yards in a 62-55 victory over Knox to break the NCAA single-game passing record. Durley completes 34 of 52 passes and throws for five touchdowns, including two in the final two minutes as the Red Devils close the Division III game with 17 unanswered points.

2014 — Kei Nishikori outlasts Milos Raonic in a five-set marathon that ends a 2:26 a.m., tying the latest finish in U.S. Open history.

2015 — Indiana’s Tamika Catchings scores 13 points, and the Fever beat the Connecticut Sun 81-51 to reach the playoffs for a WNBA-record 11th straight season.

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And finally

Appalachian State upsets Michigan. Watch and listen here.

Until next time...

That concludes today’s newsletter. If you have any feedback, ideas for improvement or things you’d like to see, email me at houston.mitchell@latimes.com, and follow me on Twitter at @latimeshouston. To get this newsletter in your inbox, click here.


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