For Temple University sports teams to have a season during the COVID-19 pandemic, Temple Athletics needed someone who could coordinate with The American Athletic Conference, the NCAA and the City of Philadelphia about COVID-19 policies at the same time.
One year into the COVID-19 pandemic, that leader at Temple is Jessica Reo, executive senior associate athletics director and senior women’s administrator. Reo is a central figure in the school’s implementation of social distancing and COVID-19 testing protocols.
Reo, who joined Temple’s Athletic Department in August 2019, is responsible for overseeing different departments within Temple Athletics and works closely with the sports medicine department to make sure they have enough tests for student-athletes and coordinating testing protocols and COVID-19 safety measures for all Temple sports.
On any given day, Reo will attend conference calls with coaching staffs from across The American, Board of Trustees meetings, meetings about student-athletes’ academics and biweekly sports supervisor meetings, she said.
Temple football started their season around a month late because they struggled to get approval from the city to hold full team practice, and their season ended early after their last game was canceled due to positive COVID-19 cases inside the program.
“I think we’ve had our hiccups just like anybody else,” Reo said. “Everybody has been under a lot of pressure to avoid the spread, and I think we’ve done a good job.”
The men’s basketball team played 16 games and women’s basketball played 22 games, despite both sports experiencing postponements and cancellations to some games.
The men’s basketball team stopped summer practices due to a positive COVID-19 test and dealt with postponed games all season including cancellation of their last two regular season games.
“We get input from multiple sources all the time,” Reo said. “We’re looking at the city guidelines, the state guidelines, conference guidelines and NCAA guidelines, just trying to make sure we are consistently following all of those as they change.”
Several other sports remain entrenched in seasons that have largely gone as planned, like volleyball and both soccer teams.
Reo is also responsible for making sure all Temple teams comply with different conferences’ testing and social distancing guidelines when the Owls play teams outside the AAC, she said.
Reo credits individual teams’ staffs for following the protocols in place throughout the season, she said.
In August 2020, it was uncertain whether collegiate sports seasons would take place at all due to the pandemic, as it was still unclear if teams could prevent a major COVID-19 outbreak within their programs. Reo felt like she entered what seemed like a lose-lose scenario: either bypass an entire year’s worth of Temple sports or face significant risks regarding COVID-19 safety for student-athletes and coaches, she said.
Reo successfully chaired the Return to Participation Committee last summer, which worked closely with several parties, like medical staff, facility personnel and conditioning staff, to create and implement strategies to prevent the spread of COVID-19, like testing athletes and giving out protective equipment to medical and coaching staffs.
“She’s been on top of the COVID-19 issues just about on a daily basis,” said Acting Director of Athletics Fran Dunphy. “It’s taken up a tremendous amount of time for her, but I think she’s really performed greatly during these very trying times.”
Reo’s implementation of testing and social distancing procedures while dealing with game cancellations or postponements is not going unnoticed, Dunphy said.
“We’ve had to make adjustments with the city, with the university, with the state, with the [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention],” Dunphy said. “With a person like Jessica, her time has been so valuable to letting us know what we can and cannot do. It’s been a remarkable year, but I think she has stood up to every challenge she has been presented with.”
Nobody receives more credit than Reo for putting on safe and successful seasons this year, said Senior Associate Athletic Director Larry Dougherty.
“She is tirelessly working on behalf of our student-athletes to instill the healthiest environment,” Dougherty added. “I am really amazed by how she’s been able to handle this.”
Colleen Claggett contributed reporting.