Idaho Vandals Practice

Idaho coach Paul Petrino talks with his players at the conclusion of practice on Dec. 20, 2016, as the Vandals prepared for the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl at the Boise State indoor practice facility.

Nine cases of COVID-19 have emerged among 125 University of Idaho student-athletes tested during the past month, the school confirmed Monday.

The majority of reported positive cases are among football players, and two Vandal staffers have contracted the virus, according to multiple sources close to the program who spoke to the Lewiston Tribune on the condition of anonymity.

Idaho spokeswoman Jodi Walker said that since early July, 15 student-athletes have quarantined without symptoms, while another nine had symptoms and self-isolated. The total number of active cases currently is uncertain, according to Idaho.

Walker said Idaho is doing its due diligence to combat the virus, and following proper protocols, which she noted are planned to become more finalized for athletics later this week.

Athletes isolate upon returning to campus, then get tested, then isolate again while awaiting results.

On Tuesday, Stadium’s Brett McMurphy reported that nearly three-fourths of Idaho’s team don’t want to play this fall due to concerns of the unknown long-term impact of the virus.

Vandals players organized a confidential poll on whether they felt comfortable playing in 2020 with the current policies that are in place, the report states. In the poll, 60 of 82 players said they were not.

“A lot of us feel like player safety isn’t a top priority and they’re pushing this season (to be played) without proper safety precautions,” an unnamed player told Stadium. “We feel it would be safer to play in the spring with the other FCS conferences that have moved to the spring.”

Sources said that those who contract the virus are asked to recollect anyone they’d been around. Regardless of their coronavirus test results, players must quarantine for two weeks if they have been in contact with someone who tested positive.

Tribune sources, some of them Idaho athletes, estimated the number of football players to be quarantined to be 10 to 15 people higher, as of last week. Sources say people seem to be recovering well, but many have voiced concerns about the school steaming ahead with its plans for the season.

For instance, a roommate of a positive-testing player might unknowingly pick up the virus at home, then compete at an ensuing practice. Sources expressed uncertainty about the upcoming football season, worrying about the safety of players and personnel. They observed that the situation already has become concerning, and presumably will worsen once full-fledged team practices begin, and when thousands of other Idaho students arrive on campus later this month to begin the academic semester.

Both Idaho coach Paul Petrino and athletic director Terry Gawlik released statements Tuesday saying they were willing to listen to players’ concerns.

“We stand behind our student-athletes and fully support their right to speak out,” Petrino’s statement said. “I have also shared with our players that I am available to listen and discuss options at any time if they have concerns about returning to play in the current environment.”

The team met Tuesday to discuss safety protocols that exist both at the football facility and on campus.

“I told them if they don’t feel comfortable, they need to tell somebody,” Gawlik said. “They need to discuss with their trainers, with me, with their coach or whomever. We will take care of them. We are not going to remove anyone’s athletic aid because of their individual concerns.”

Per sources, testing capabilities at Moscow’s Gritman Medical Center have been limited, and not every player thought to have been in contact with a positive teammate receives a test, instead being directed to quarantine in the Idaho “bubble” for 14 days.

The university announced last week it plans to test every student using an in-house system before the semester’s Aug. 24 start, and for those results to be made available in 24 hours.

The Big Sky Conference announced Thursday it will await this week’s NCAA Board of Governors meeting, then reconvene to “review options regarding competition this fall for (the conference’s) member institutions’ intercollegiate athletic teams,” according to a news release.

That NCAA meeting took place Tuesday, but the Board of Governors will wait to announce any decisions — including those concerning the FCS playoffs — until Wednesday.

Other Big Sky schools — including Montana State, Idaho State and Weber State — have reported cases of COVID-19 among student-athletes during the past month.

As of now, the Idaho football team is scheduled to open fall camp Friday. Idaho’s players returned to campus for noncontact workouts in late June, and those exercises have continued.

The football team determines which players are tested by conducting temperature checks and posing health-related questions before each training session, according to the athletic department.

The Vandals already have lost two of their nonconference games because of coronavirus-related cancellations. Idaho’s home opener, scheduled for Sept. 5 at the Kibbie Dome against Great Northwest Athletic Conference foe Western Oregon, was scrapped when the GNAC canceled its fall sports seasons. The Battle of the Palouse against Washington State, set for Sept. 19 at Pullman, was dropped when the Pac-12 announced in July its members would play conference-only schedules.