LARAMIE – J.D. Jordan’s life doesn’t normally get busy for another month or so. But, as seemingly every television commercial has informed us in the last few months, these are unprecedented times.
Jordan is the University of Wyoming’s director of athletic equipment operations and, in a world where COVID-19 has created a new normal for everyone, he’s found his days are a bit longer than they’d normally be this time of year. Jordan normally wouldn’t hit his stride in terms of managing and cleaning equipment until July, but the timeline has been moved up in 2020.
In terms of what Jordan and his full-time staff of two others are doing on a daily basis, not much is different. When Jordan took over in the summer of 2018, he made it his mission to make sure every locker was clean, that every helmet was cleaned after practice and that clothes were washed after every lift or workout. That will not be changing when voluntary workouts start in the next few weeks for football players, who began arriving on campus with other student-athletes this week and are undergoing mandatory two-week quarantines.
What has changed, however, are the intricate details being addressed to protect student-athletes from a pandemic that has turned the world upside down. While these safety measures will mean less in-person chats with players (among Jordan’s favorite parts of the job), he knows it’s a sacrifice that has to be made for there to be a college football season.
The forthcoming 12- to 14-hour days are well worth it.
“It’s going to provide an energy boost,” Jordan said. “It’s going be long hours, but we know that it’s worth it in the end.”
For the first few weeks of the pandemic, Jordan and his equipment staff worked from home. Once it became clear Wyoming would be among the first programs to open back up due to low infection rates in Laramie, Jordan’s staff started working from the equipment offices to create a plan. The caveat, however, was the door to the offices were closed all day.
Jordan and his staff attended Zoom meetings with various equipment managers across a spectrum of different sports, including a series of presentations put on by the Brooklyn Nets. It was an opportunity to spitball ideas with other industry professionals to create a plan of action once athletes were allowed back in their respective facilities.
With student-athletes returning to the UW campus, things will look different for the foreseeable future. Jordan and his staff spent weeks trying to determine what type of masks to buy for athletes, which are being strongly recommended, but are not mandatory.
They settled on a total of three face coverings per athlete: two long, cloth masks that look a bit like a neck-warmer (called a uniband) to use around the football facilities, and a traditional mask for use at home or around town. Unibands are handy for athletes, as they can be slid up to cover the face without touching the inside of the fabric. These will be washed every night so there is a constant, clean rotation of them for players and staff. The traditional masks will be tended to by athletes themselves, though, if asked, Jordan’s staff has no problem washing them. Each uniband costs $7.95, while the masks were $5.50 each, Jordan said.
If a player or coach enters the equipment offices, Jordan and staff immediately put on their own face coverings. An abundance of precaution in the UW equipment room is nothing new. It’s just heavily amplified now.
The desire to do things the right way starts at the top of the food chain with UW athletics director Tom Burman, Jordan said. Burman has tweeted pictures of himself wearing his facial covering, and of the need to be smart and safe during the pandemic, occasionally to the displeasure of his followers who may hold different beliefs. But it’s a stand worth taking, Burman said, particularly as the leader of one of the first universities that allowed its student-athletes back on campus.
“If you’re going to come back in the first wave … you’d better do it right,” Burman said. “I’m not arrogant enough to pretend I know what the best method to restrict COVID-19 between people is. (But) if I have to deal with a little discomfort … in an effort to save others, I’m absolutely fine with that.”
The football locker room has already been heavily sanitized, Jordan said, and will continue to be regularly. The same cleaning disinfectants and laundry chemicals the staff used previously are still in use, with the exception of one chemical having been swapped for another. Once voluntary football workouts start, equipment staff will provide a laundry service for players. Jordan and his staff will collect dirty clothes before the next workout window. A clean set will be available for pick up when they leave the facilities.
In essence, players wear a clean set in, turn in a dirty set each session and pick up a clean set on the way out. UW’s washing machines are approved to remove COVID-19, Jordan said.
The way clothes are washed is changing, too.
The sheer quantity of laundry will stay about the same, according to Jordan. It will instead be done in smaller batches by lifting group, as opposed to a third of the team at a time like was previously done. Smaller lifting groups allow for more time windows and to spread out the laundry loads. In order to pick up the laundry, staggered groups of 15 or so will be given a specific path to navigate through the football facility, with social-distancing emphasized between the student-athletes on signs and marks on the floor. Their laundry will be available for pick-up in cubbies outside the equipment room.
Previously, players were responsible for cleaning their own helmets and dumping their shoulder pads and practice jerseys into tubs. That will still continue, but Jordan said he and his staff will likely do another walkthrough on their own each day to make sure everything is sanitized.
Footballs and basketballs won’t be washed, per se, as large amounts of water will ruin the leather of the ball. But they will be constantly disinfected, and basketball players will actually have their own individual basketball they are assigned to use for workouts.
And, as with the incoming players, equipment staff will be administered coronavirus tests this week. Jordan and his staff have also been asked to not leave the state for vacations so as to avoid having to be quarantined again, though that cannot be mandated.
Will all of the precaution change the way of life for players and staff? Without a doubt. But for Jordan, that’s not a bad thing. “Normal” has changed, and will likely change several times in the coming months. But without a healthy, sanitary way to go about college athletics, there will not be a college football season come fall. At the end of the day, it all hinges on player safety.
“Ultimately, if we don’t have sports, it’s going to be hard to have a job. What they’re asking us is not that big of a hardship in the grand scheme of college athletics,” Jordan said. “Protection is my No. 1 priority.”