ATHENS — Georgia football coach Kirby Smart and university leadership made it clear the Bulldogs’ program is committed to a safe return when players get back on campus on June 8.
“We’re excited to now know when players can begin returning to campus,” Smart said in a statement released on Friday afternoon, hours after the SEC announced the league presidents’ vote.
“We’ll be coordinating our efforts with the medical staff keeping the primary focus on health and safety of our student-athletes and those working directly with them at this time.”
Smart and his coaching staff will not be allowed to supervise or gather information on the workouts. The players’ return is voluntary and can only be overseen by the strength and conditioning staff.
Georgia features one of the most respected strength and conditioning coaches in the nation in Scott Sinclair.
Sinclair, like Smart, enters his fifth year in the program.
Smart said UGA will be working to implement the return of the players in the coming days amid the COVID-19 pandemic that has sidelined collegiate sports since the winter sports championships were canceled on March. 12.
“I’m sure they are looking forward to returning to begin working toward what we hope is a regular season in the fall,” said Smart, himself once quarantined for two weeks after returning with his family from a vacation in Central America last March.
Georgia is scheduled to start the season against Virginia on Sept. 7 in Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta.
SEC commissioner Greg Sankey has been holding calls with the league athletic directors on an almost daily basis, and weekly conference calls with SEC league presidents and chancellors leading up to Friday’s announcement.
Sankey says his focus is on starting the season on time, though he has said the COVID-19 recovery will ultimately set the timeline.
UGA athletic director Greg McGarity acknowledged in his statement the return to campus is only a beginning.
“It’s only the first step and there are many details still to be determined on every campus,” McGarity said. “We’ll certainly be driven by the medical community and our sports medicine staff led by Ron Courson.
“Guidelines and enhanced health and safety measures will be followed to the letter. Again, this is only the first step with further details and plans coming over the next several days and weeks.”
The conference commissioners have agreed on a six-week training camp in effect by mid-July if the season is to start on time. The six weeks had been recommended by the NCAA oversight committee.
Courson, Georgia’s globally-renowned director of medicine since 1995, is part of the SEC-appointed ‘Medical Guidance Task Force.”
“The great work of the SEC Medical Guidance Task Force, which included Ron Courson, provided the Presidents with thoughtful analysis which helped inform our decision,” said UGA president Jere Morehead, who added that the vote to return on June 8 was unanimous.
Courson, who a year ago to the date helped save the life of UGA redshirt freshman quarter D’Wan Mathis, provided an outline of UGA’s voluntary work-out and transition plan summary as follows:
The approval of “voluntary work-outs” is the first step back in an orderly progression for the return of sports, as follows:
• First and foremost, our focus is on health and safety. We are taking a collaborative approach that involves public health, community health care system, sports medicine, sports performance, sports nutrition, and sport coaches working together to develop a plan and ensure each student-athlete has a individualized plan for return.
• We will conduct COVID testing and perform medical evaluations on all student-athletes and they must be medically cleared prior to any physical activity. We will identify any student-athletes and staff who may be more vulnerable due to existing health conditions and ensure that we have an individualized plan of care for their safe return to sport or work based upon medical guidance.
• Our student-athletes have had an unprecedented lay-off from sports and we have to be smart about how we progress back to activity during this “transition period”. Our strength and conditioning return to sport plan will be based off national consensus guidelines developed by a joint task force with representatives from the National Strength and Conditioning Association and the Collegiate Strength and Conditioning Coaches Association. It involves starting with a reduced volume of work and modified work-rest ratios with a gradual increase, allowing the student-athletes to acclimate to both the environment with heat and humidity as well as building up exercise tolerance.
• We have developed a detailed plan to utilize the strength and conditioning facilities that follows the State of Georgia Executive order for re-opening of exercise facilities, including screening procedures, small groups using social distancing, and enhanced cleaning and disinfection protocols.
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