ATHENS — Georgia football coach Kirby Smart provided a detailed look into the new normal for college football on Thursday.
The Bulldogs’ fifth-year head coach explained how things are going to be “a lot different” for Georgia players from the time they return to campus on account of the COVID-19 pandemic that has put sports on hold dating back to March 12.
The Bulldogs will arrive back on campus at the start of June after the SEC approved a June 8 start date for voluntary workouts.
“We’re going to bring them back prior to June 8 so they can get a medical workup,” Smart said, referring to the UGA protocol put in place by director of sports medicine Ron Courson.
“They’ve got to have an extensive physical, they’ve got to have COVID tests.”
Some players, Smart said, could be screened and tested before they arrive back on campus.
The big ‘what if?’
Smart acknowledged Georgia obviously has to be prepared in the event a player, or players, test positive for COVID-19 after arriving back on the UGA campus.
“Each guy will have the option of if they want to go back home if they test positive, or we have a quarantine policy that we’re able to put guys into should they test positive,” Smart said on the Zoom call.
“We’ve also got the ability if it happens during a workout period that we’ll have contact tracing. Guys that have worked out together, those groups will stay the same, and we’ll be aware of those guys.”
Smart said players will be educated throughout the resocialization period.
“It’s not going to be the normal, where I walk in, and I go to my locker, and I can workout, and then I shower — it’s going to be completely different,” Smart said, referring to state guidelines that mandate social distancing and restrictions on group gatherings.
The football coaching staff will not be allowed to oversee the voluntary workouts. There is no date in place for when organized football practice will begin, but commissioners indicated they’re working toward a uniform start date, ideally by mid-July.
Georgia football players will notice immediately things have changed drastically since their winter workout sessions concluded.
“They will come in and do a light workout initially, because we want to bring them back slowly,” Smart said. “They will work out in smaller groups. Twenty or so guys to a group. Then, of the 20 that come in, they’ll be subdivided into groups of seven.
“So you’re looking at a 7-person rotation in a 12,000 square foot weight room and they will be spaced out.”
Smart said a cleaning crew come through after each group session of players. The areas from the indoor football facility and into the weight room will be scoured and disinfected.
“There will be one door in, one door out,” Smart said. “And we won’t be using the locker room.”
The Georgia coaching staff has been working in Butts-Mehre Heritage Hall on a rotational basis the past few weeks.
“There’s less time in the office, and we’ve been alternating how many guys are in the office, with offense and defense separated,” Smart said. “There’s a lot of protocol there that’s been instituted from our university for a safety standpoint. There has been cleaning crews after and before we’re in here.”
Safety trumps finances
Smart debunked any notion that student-athletes are being brought back on campus prematurely on account of financial pressures.
“I certainly think that fiscally and financially it’s going to benefit if there is a football season, but that has nothing to do with the decisions that go into it medically,” Smart said.
“A lot of people have said, ‘Well, the SEC has had to come back really strong with comeback dates and return to sports, and they’ve had this protocol to allow us to play football,” he said.
“But every decision that’s made at the SEC level, I can assure you, is made by infectious disease people. It’s based on information about the safety and well-being of the student-athletes.”
Smart said parents and players feel the workout environments UGA can provide are safer than those in the athletes’ hometowns.
“Wherever it is they are working out, at a local local high school or a local gym that has opened back up … is that environment is any more safe than one that is professionally cleaned, monitored and taken care of by our staff?” he said.
“Most of the kids we talked to, they are more comfortable saying, If I’m going to workout, than I’m gong to do it there.”
Smart made it clear his staff will see to it that the Georgia players come into the workouts with both eyes wide open.
“I promise you there’s some of our players don’t feel vulnerable, they feel like they’re not vulnerable because of what they have heard, or because they think they have super powers,” Smart said.
“So we’re going to educate our guys to be safe and make good decisions and we’re going to have education sessions even when they get back to give us the best opportunity to have a season.”
Georgia is scheduled to start the season on Sept. 7 in Mercedes-Benz Stadium against Virginia.
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