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USC and UCLA get clearance from state officials to start full football practices

UCLA coach Chip Kelly talks to players during practice at the Wasserman Football Center on July 31, 2019.
UCLA coach Chip Kelly conducts practice at the Wasserman Football Center in July 2019. The Bruins and USC Trojans have been cleared by the California health officials to conduct full-scale practices.
(Gary Coronado / Los Angeles Times)

USC and UCLA have received the clearance they needed from the California Department of Public Health to conduct full-scale, 11-on-11 practices after the state agency published interim guidelines intended to keep teams safe amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

All college football teams in the state can practice with as many as 75 players present, split into groups of 25, provided they are conducting daily antigen testing. USC and UCLA have both satisfied those requirements as a result of the Pac-12 Conference’s partnership with Quidel Corp., a provider of rapid diagnostic tests that have been delivered to the conference’s athletic departments.

The groups of 25 include coaches and staff, and are discouraged from mixing with other groups, meaning that a first-team offense could be restricted to going against the first-team defense. Teams are encouraged to use signs, cones or tape to make dividing lines clear between groups.

UCLA has been working out with more than 50 players on its practice field since last week, when the Bruins were allowed to increase their workouts to 20 hours a week. Players have stayed within their position groups except for situational drills, such as a three-on-two format, where a quarterback threw to two receivers covered by two defensive backs.

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The Pac-12 has announced a partnership with Fulgent Genetics to provide supplemental COVID-19 testing to every athletic department in the conference.

One person close to the team, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to publicly divulge the Bruins’ practice plans, said the team had not been limited by the state guidelines because under normal circumstances it would not be conducting a full 11-on-11 practice this far out from the season opener. UCLA is expected to start training camp on Oct. 9, nearly a month before the season opener scheduled for the weekend of Nov. 6.

USC has been more conservative with its practice plans, remaining in groups of 12 or fewer, as per the state’s previous guidelines. Trojans coach Clay Helton said last week that the full team had yet to gather on the practice field but planned to by Oct. 9, when camp is set to begin.

According to the state’s 37-page report, published Thursday, athletes and coaches should stay at least six feet apart when not on the field or engaged in a play or activity whenever possible. Coaches are expected to create reasonable distance between themselves and players when explaining drills and rules of the game, and players are expected not to get too close when huddling.

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After the Big Ten made its decision to play this year, USC players and athletic administrators did their part to get the Pac-12 back on the field.

The guidelines also call for the elimination of unnecessary physical contact such as high-fives and handshake lines with teammates and opposing teams and coaches. Game officials are asked to maintain six feet of separation from one another, as well as from athletes and coaches in instances in which they interact with them off the field. Players, coaches and others standing on the sidelines are required to wear face masks.

Circumstances that could lead to a discontinuation of practice and competition for the rest of the season include more than 10% of athletes on any team testing positive within a 14-day period. For teams with fewer than 20 athletes, five or more positive tests could lead to possible discontinuation of practice and competition for the rest of the season.

Times staff writer Ryan Kartje contributed to this report.


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