NCAA Reclassifies Lacrosse as Intermediate Risk for COVID-19 Spread

PHOTO BY RICH BARNES


The NCAA has reclassified men’s and women’s lacrosse as sports with intermediate risk for COVID-19 transmission in its return-to-play guidelines, encouraging news especially as US Lacrosse lobbies the NFHS, state and local authorities to do the same for boys’ lacrosse.

In a 29-page document titled “Resocialization of Collegiate Sport: Developing Standards for Practice and Competition,” the NCAA Sport Science Institute updated its recommendations for COVID-19 testing and transmission risk classification for each sport. The NCAA released the new guidelines Friday.

The NCAA originally had classified lacrosse among sports with a high risk of COVID-19 transmission when it published the first edition of this document in July.

Field hockey, rowing, soccer and volleyball (with face masks) were also reclassified as posing intermediate risk — leaving basketball, football, ice hockey, volleyball (without face masks), water polo and wrestling as the only sports in the high-risk category.

The NFHS has classified girls' lacrosse as a moderate-risk sport, but has labeled boys' lacrosse as a high-risk sport, a designation that US Lacrosse has asked the national high school sports association to reconsider.

In addition to direct outreach to the NFHS leadership, US Lacrosse has written letters to state government officials in states who list lacrosse classification as high-risk. US Lacrosse also is participating in a multi-sport survey examining COVID-19 risk and leading grassroots efforts to organize lacrosse league and program leaders’ outreach to their local public officials about the importance of changing risk classification.

US Lacrosse hopes these groups will come to the same conclusion as the NCAA. The sport’s national governing body shared its position paper on the subject with the NCAA in advance of its reclassification of lacrosse.

“The US Lacrosse Sports Science and Safety Committee supports boys’ and girls’ lacrosse being grouped together in the moderate-risk category,” said Dr. Gene Hong, chair of the committee and co-chair of the US Lacrosse Return to Play medical advisory group.







Dr. Karen Sutton, associate professor and sports medicine orthopedic surgeon at the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York City, concurred with Hong. 

“Risks are inherent in any activity, but there’s no data to suggest that boys’ lacrosse should be included in the higher-risk category,” said Sutton, a former college lacrosse player at Duke who is also a team physician for U.S. Ski & Snowboard and the chief medical officer for World Lacrosse. “The nature of the sport does not lead to prolonged periods of close contact. Players are constantly moving, don’t share equipment and the game is played outdoors.” 

A trickle-down effect of the NFHS classification is that some states and local groups, in the absence of any sport-specific guidance from the Centers for Disease Control, have followed the NFHS recommendation of placing boys’ lacrosse into the higher-risk category. At the same time, other states, including Maryland, New Jersey and Pennsylvania, have both boys’ and girls’ lacrosse in the moderate-risk category.

“We’ve received no rationale or data behind the decision made by the NFHS, or any of these states, as to why boys’ lacrosse has been placed into a higher-risk category,” said Ann Kitt Carpenetti, vice president of lacrosse operations for US Lacrosse. “We are reaching out to the leaders of the groups that have made these decisions to arm them with the perspective of our medical experts and provide additional information to help them make an informed decision."

“This is a tremendously important issue for the lacrosse community,” Carpenetti added. “We are committed to doing our best to make sure that our voice is heard.”

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