ATHENS — College football’s attempt to return has gained momentum in May with some pro sports back underway and school presidents set to reopen campuses.
Collegiate sports have been at a standstill since March 12, when the remainder of the NCAA winter sports championship seasons were canceled, and spring sports were put on a shelf.
SEC commissioner Greg Sankey has been leading conference calls with his league’s athletic directors most every day and presidents each week, in addition to huddling with other Power 5 conference commissioners.
Sankey has maintained that while the COVID-19 situation is fluid — the ultimate decisions based on health and science experts — his focus remains to find a way for the season to safely start as scheduled.
Different states have been reopening at different rates, but NCAA president Mark Emmert has said he won’t mandate a uniform return to campus.
Here are five things to consider at this stage of collegiate sports comeback attempts amid the coronavirus pandemic:
Following pro sports
Collegiate sports has often followed the lead of pro sports, and at the very least, will study models for sports’ return.
The NFL announced last week teams can re-open facilities on Tuesday, albeit, without coaches and players. The NFL is expected to announced league protocols next week involving the teams’ return, per The Denver Post.
At least 16 NBA teams will have reopened their practice facilities for voluntary workouts as of Monday, as well.
Major League Baseball has released a detailed, 67-page health-and-safety protocol for its return, including such details as players being barred from using Ubers and discouraged from postage showers.
NCAA council vote Wednesday
SI.com’s Ross Dellenger reported the 40-member NCAA Division I Council will vote whether to lift a nation-wide moratorium invoking on-campus summer actives that currently expires May 31.
The council, made up of key college athletics figures, is expected to decide between allowing only voluntary training or granting required training with staff interaction.
There exists the option to remain shutdown, but the SI.com report indicates that’s unlikely.
3. SEC presidents’ vote
A Friday (May 22) vote by SEC presidents has been referenced at least twice, as it relates to the potential for SEC schools to return to campus on June 1 or June 15.
LSU executive deputy director Verge Ausberry, first to reference the May 22 involving the two June return dates, explained schools would prefer to manage athletes on campus with states reopening gyms.
College Football Hall of Fame Coach Gene Stallings made the same point in an interview with DawgNation last month.
“I’d rather have my players around me and our doctors and team facilities,” Stallings said, “rather than scattered around the country where we can’t take care of them.”
4. COVID-19 lawsuit protection
One of the hurdles to the return of student-athletes on campus is the return of all students to the classroom, a prerequisite most everyone agrees on.
Precisely what constitutes an adequate return to campus, in terms of in-person versus online classes, has not been established.
But an Inside Higher Ed article published last week reports college presidents told Vice President Mike Pence that “being shielded from lawsuits if students get sick would make them likelier to physically reopen their campuses.”
The presidents met online with Pence and U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos about what would be needed for campuses to reopen. More testing was among items also discussed.
5. Team staffs returning
North Carolina’s Mack Brown and Alabama’s Nick Saban are 68 years old, bringing into question the amount of social distancing that will be required for older coaches and those with compromised immune systems.
Brown told ESPN earlier this month he planned to social distance upon returning to the Tar Heels’ football offices.
“When our team gets back together, I’m going to want to hug all of them. I can’t,” Brown said. “We just can’t do that, and it’s not just me at my age, it’s all of us because you don’t want to infect someone else, either. I’m just hoping things get better before we all go back to work, but I don’t think this is going away. It’s going to be a different way of life for all of us.”
Brown said North Carolina’s staff was planning to return on June 15, but the Texas’ football staff said it planned to return on Monday (May 18).
Georgia athletic director Greg McGarity confirmed Kirby Smart and his coaches have been back to the UGA football building, but on a “very limited and sporadic” basis, and “not all at one time.”
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