In a normal year, Thursday will be a day of celebration. Campus football is back in 100 days! This will be a time for debate Trevor Lawrence vs. Justin Fields, to ask whether the Oregon offensive midfielder Penei Sewell actually the game’s best player and wondering what Lane Kiffin will do when he comes face to face with Nick Saban.
But remember coronavirus pandemic, today’s question is different. When will players be allowed to return to campus? What kind of environment awaits them when they return? And what season will they play?
We talked with many key decision makers, including school presidents, conference commissioners, athletic directors, coaches and medical experts to get the latest information in a rapidly changing world. Expect more answers over the next few weeks, as sports pro comeback efforts, politicians open their states and universities make plans for the fall semester.
But with 100 days left until the scheduled kickoff on August 29, here is everything:
When will the player return to campus?
Gordon Gee has recorded nearly 39 years as university president, including six years at school with the FBS program. He loves soccer, and his comments about sports are almost as famous as his ties.
Last week, Wah, who came in second as president of West Virginia, was re-delivered unforgettable lines about football.
Speaking at the town hall event organized by WOWK-TV, Gee said she believed the 2020 season would take place, even though the pandemic was taking place.
“Even if I have to dress,” said Gee, 76. “My ankle has been recorded. I’m ready to go in.”
Gee’s quip reflects the growing optimism among presidents in FBS schools that their campus will soon reopen and the game will be played in the fall. Auburn President Jay Gogue, in a message to new students who arrived last week, said, “We will have football this fall.” Presidents in Alabama, Georgia and elsewhere say they expect a season, even if it needs to be modified.
Although optimistic, the uncertainty has not disappeared. Last week, the Chancellor of the California State University system announced that CSU schools would remain primarily in the virtual learning model for academic fall. Three FBS programs – San Diego State, Fresno State and San Jose State – are in the CSU system, and their ability to play the season when the campus is basically empty is unknown.
Most decision makers oppose having soccer players on campus if other students stay at home.
“I would be surprised if we play football and we are not open to face-to-face classes,” Northwestern president Morton Schapiro said.
Added ACC commissioner John Swofford: “That is a foreign thought to most of us.”
However, Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby said that as long as athletes register and attend classes, even online, they can still compete if their school chooses to do so. Some commissioners are discussing the impact of hybrid academic models – some direct classes, some online – which are likely to pave the way for athletic competition.
“If there are several students on campus but not the entire student body, our league will definitely tend to play,” said AAC commissioner Mike Aresco.
Most university leaders seem to focus on when and how, not if, the campus will reopen. They noted improvements in testing and formulated protocols to reintegrate the student body, including the possibility of isolation and quarantine.
As the school tries to resolve these problems, the schedule for decision making draws closer.
On Wednesday, the NCAA Division I Board voted lift the moratorium on activities on campus for soccer and basketball effective June 1. President and SEC chancellor will vote for Friday about whether schools can reopen their athletic facilities for voluntary training on June 1. Oklahoma coach Lincoln Riley, meanwhile, called for it to be opened by June 1 “ridiculous.” Bowlsby, Riley’s league commissioner, said on Wednesday that 12 The great must be “standing and walking” in mid-July to start the season on time. Ten presidents and chancellors will meet June 7.
“June 1, in everyone’s mind, is a critical date,” TCU athletics director Jeremiah Donati said. “That makes you five, six weeks out of potentially returning to campus in under six weeks [practice] everyone’s plan is talking about. … Early June is when you have to have a plan, I think, and you have to move forward, be able to change and have flexibility built there. But at that time, the countdown was officially active because you took less than 90 days to get started. “
Some officials report patience with decisions about formal activities, including practice. There will be social distance regulations in the dressing room and training area, frequent sanitation facilities and other measures to limit outbreaks. University of Florida medical staff told Gators athletic director Scott Stricklin that they would prefer athletes to return gradually rather than all at once.
Tennessee athletics director Phillip Fulmer noted that even when the return date is set, athletes returning to campus need to be tested for COVID-19 and may be quarantined before starting activities.
“I have been there as a coach, but for me, the decision really fell to professionals in the medical field,” said Fulmer, Hall of Fame coach for Vol from 1992 to 2008.
“This is bigger than a few exercises. As long as we all have the same opportunity to practice and exercise in the same number of days, in the end it won’t be a problem as long as you have time to get the children’s condition. And I think we will be able to do that’s as long as we get it back on campus in mid-June or first July. “
A team head doctor for the Power 5 program told ESPN that he was worried about being too hasty in making a decision.
“The world must get involved again,” said the doctor, “but bring back 130 participants [from] football team in the next week or so, when we still have almost three months before the season opener, if the season opens on September 1, that’s not smart. I do not see the benefits. “- Chris Low and Adam Rittenberg
Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh discussed the protocol the team took to protect its players and the possibility of playing football without fans.
What will it be like when the player returns?
While officials continue to find out when and how college soccer players can return to campus safely, everyone must get used to the new normalcy. From heavy rooms for field practice to the dining room, everything will be different. And, upon arrival, Coronavirus testing will be key.
“First, when they got here, they were quarantined for 48 hours, and then tested,” said Nebraska’s athletic director Bill Moos. “If there are positive ones, there are dorms provided to quarantine them, and then [take] all precautions with respect to where they are trained, what they do, how they do it, how they get access to our food and our part of nutrition. All very well thought out. All are managed extraordinarily with the safety and well-being of young people who are top of our minds. “
One SEC coach told ESPN this week that his athletics department plans for players returning to campus, which are still a work in progress, including testing all players when they return and keeping them quarantined until the results are known.
The first month only covers strength and conditions, with the coach dividing players into about 10 to 15 pods. Pods will be determined by the player’s living arrangements; roommates in the apartment and players who live in the same dorm will be placed in a shared pod to reduce the potential spread of the corona virus.
Training will start around 7 o’clock in the morning and will not end until around 6 o’clock in the afternoon, as the groups spin through the weight room every day. Players will enter through the same entrance in the football building, where medical staff will measure the temperature. Players will be asked to practice maintaining social distance in the weight room, and staff will clean the room after each exercise before the next group arrives.
Players will not be allowed to shower in the dressing room. They will be asked to hand over their used clothes the next day to be washed by staff.
The coaching staff will continue to conduct virtual meetings with position groups, and no meetings will be held in the soccer facility at least June.
The SEC coach said the first month of training would not include passing exercises and other activities that require balls or other equipment. During a live Twitter interview Friday, NCAA chief medical officer Brian Hainline referred to NCAA medical panel guidelines for the first two phases to return to play, each of which will last for two weeks.
“We recommend that the balls distributed do not become part of phase 1 and phase 2,” Hainline said. “Of course there is a possibility – maybe even a probability – that the virus can be transmitted by shared balls.”
The SEC coach stressed that the first month of training was completely voluntary, and the players did not have to return to campus if they were not comfortable doing it. He said the SEC program hopes to build NFL type organized team activities in July, but there are currently no plans to do so.
“Finally, we must enter the crowd and the meeting room,” the SEC coach said. “We don’t have many answers for how that will happen now.”
The SEC team doctors are scheduled to talk to the athletics director on Thursday, and then the SEC president and chancellor will make the final call on Friday, when they choose whether to allow athletes to return to campus June 1 or push that date back to mid-June or which first of july.
“There is a theory out there that we need to wait until everyone can do it,” said Stricklin of Florida. “There is another theory that if you have several states open a gym, will children be safer in a school-controlled environment? It’s easy enough to understand all the different sides of the issue whether you agree or not.
“We all want to do what is right for children and do what is as fair as possible.”
A chief doctor of the Power 5 team told ESPN that he supported bringing players back to campus in smaller groups and not all at once.
“It doesn’t make sense that some coaches are worried about bringing back players on June 1,” the team doctor said. “Many of them are coaches who outperform themselves and think they must return them to train and control them. Why not wait and see what we learn over the next few months and shoot for July 1?
“I was more interested when they returned that there was a plan to effectively assess their COVID-19 status and have sufficient ability to test and get those results back and then have a plan outlined about how they lived their day. All we can control when they are in the facility. We can’t control after hours. “
Laura Rutledge discusses how college football decision makers will deal with players who tested positive for the corona virus.
For fans, the return of campus football can mean watching matches on television, at least early on. In some cases, stadiums may mandate certain restrictions, such as how many people are in the stands, where they will sit and that those who choose to come to a match are required to wear masks.
These are all scenarios that need to be considered before adding more complicated variables: What is the school’s obligation to provide a safe environment for fans? And, once again, the view was not clear.
“I know every time I go to a baseball game, you flip a ticket and say, ‘If you get rotten ball, it’s with you,’ Schapiro said. “I also know that every time someone gets hit by a spoiled ball and, God forbid, gets hurt, there is a big financial settlement. I think taking a ticket, as written in the back, is it legally binding?”
Perhaps the most obvious scenario is a game played without fans, according to one ESPN Power 5 trainer: “College football without fans is like holding a wedding ceremony without a bride.”
Even so, a stadium without fans will not be empty.
According to an SEC administrator, when you count players and coaching staff from both teams, game officials, medical personnel, equipment managers, and other staff members, there may still be more than 500 people in the stadium for one match.
And the financial hit for teams that play games without fans will be huge.
Texas A&M, for example, made about $ 85 million last year in ticket sales and donations related to tickets, according to athletic director Ross Bjork. And when you take into account all game day income, including concessions and sponsors, the figure is a little over $ 100 million. The Aggies total soccer revenue for this year, including SEC revenue-sharing and television money, is around $ 140 million.
Stricklin said Florida ticket sales and donations related to tickets generated about $ 56 million. And like most other SEC schools, Florida generates about 85% of its athletics department’s entire budget through football.
Stricklin won because he thought of a soccer match without fans, and he was not alone.
“College football is a reflection of society,” said Stricklin. “Sports in general are a reflection of society, and therefore, where we might eventually be driven by how comfortable people are in the next few months going to restaurants, going to bars and going to church as the country begins to reopen.
“This week, they might not be too comfortable. In three weeks, they might be more comfortable. Two months from now, it might be an old hat again, in this case it would be a good sign for college football. But if people in July are still be careful doing these things, then that would be a different story. ” – Chris Low and Mark Schlabach
What’s the 2020 schedule like?
As college administrators, athletic directors and coaches contemplating the 2020 season unlike in recent memories, questions that once seemed unthinkable are now at the forefront. What if the SEC is ready to play but Pac-12 isn’t? What if only 12 of the 14 ACC teams are ready to play?
Unlike the NFL, NBA or other professional sports, college football does not have a single governing body that can make decisions one size for all. The NCAA was clear that they did not want that role, delaying conferences and local authorities. FBS football consists of 130 school presidents in 43 states, plus 10 conferences (and independents), not to mention countless municipalities where the level of the virus can differ in state lines.
Coach Pitt Pat Narduzzi, for example, has studied the latest data on the spread of the corona virus, hoping for signs that the worst is over. In Pittsburgh, the news was very encouraging. Case down; death has slowed. But while Pittsburgh’s response during lockdown has yielded promising results, there is a different scene in eastern Pennsylvania Turnpike.
“Western Pennsylvania is in very good condition but Eastern Pennsylvania, this is still a nightmare,” Narduzzi said last week. “They are in rough conditions there, and I don’t know what will happen.”
(According to the website of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, on Wednesday night, the Philadelphia Territory had 16,340 cases, or 1,032 per 100,000 residents. The Allegheny District, which includes Pittsburgh, had 1,641 cases, or 135 per 100,000 residents.)
“It can be different in any part of the country,” said Bowlsby, commissioner of Big 12. “We all like to have a difficult playing field, but the virus will decide that.”
South Carolina’s athletic director Ray Tanner said while the ideal conference would be harmonized about the season, regional realities could make normal national seasons difficult. The SEC, whose 14 teams are clustered in an area where most states have relaxed limits, seems to be able to move forward with the season even if other leagues are unsure.
“If you are clear in certain parts of the country and others are not,” Tanner said, “do you think they will not play?”
Regional differences also apply to certain leagues. The ACC campuses line the East Coast and go west to Louisville, Kentucky. While Clemson and Virginia Tech are relatively isolated, ACC also has teams in big cities like Atlanta, Boston, Pittsburgh and Miami.
“We are a country, but we are a very different area,” Miami coach Manny Diaz said. “When we are on the other side of the curve and we start to plan how to get out of it, there may be very different guidelines [from] one country to another. So that will be the interesting part. There must be some leveling from the playing field so that everyone can at least return at the same time. “
A uniform return date would be ideal but not possible. Coaches and medical experts say the players need at least six weeks to prepare for the competition, but the window may start at a very different time in Alabama than in California.
“I cannot imagine that at the moment we will all open at the same time,” said Penn State coach James Franklin. “If the SEC, for example, opens a month earlier than the Big Ten, and the Big Ten can open and 12 out of 14 schools, if two schools can’t open, I don’t see a conference – – any conference – punish 80% or 75% of schools because 25% of them can’t be opened. “
And that’s when the question arises about how the uneven playing field affects the playoff chase.
“Say 36 [states] say we can go, hypothetically choose the date – July 15, “said Mountain West commissioner Craig Thompson.” Other states said, ‘No, we will not go,’ and the five schools – half of your conference can go. What if Alabama, Nick Saban, can start training and LSU can’t? Do you think it will work for your national champion? “
For the record, Schapiro, president of Northwestern and chairman of the president’s top ten council and chancellor, said he did not see a situation where the league plays without all its members.
Andrea Adelson outlined the obstacles faced by college administrators when trying to coordinate the logistics of student admissions on campus during a pandemic.
But even if most schools and leagues are ready to play, unknown things about viruses and how spreading or spikes can make scheduling a nightmare. Even if teams only play conference opponents or don’t leave their territory, some might play 12 matches, while others play eight.
“Let’s say TCU plays Iowa State or Oklahoma plays Texas, and one of the schools can’t play but the other school has some tests that appear positive, or have concerns about traveling or whatever reasons and can’t play the game,” Donati said. “Is that losing? Are the teams that aren’t stated positive, did they win the match? … That will all be the real thing because surely, this will emerge.”
“I think we will be very, very lucky to start on Labor Day weekend and get through the football season without interruption,” Bowlsby added. “And we will be very fortunate to pass through the postseason and basketball season without interruption. We will have a new normal, and we must have an idea of how we will deal with these things.”
The college administrator is determined to find it, and all options are on the table for how it will be arranged. Can Pac-12 and Mountain West join forces to try to fill one schedule? Will the northern part of the ACC play a handful of games, while southern schools get full records? Can Georgia and Georgia Tech play the home-and-home series?
“We all want to play 12 games and have a perfect scenario where everyone can play the schedule as it is, but we are smart enough to know that that is not possible,” said Blake Anderson, head coach at Arkansas State. “There’s so much unknown about what will happen when we get people back in a small area. Will there be a surge? We have to be realistic enough to know there will be some adjustments. … How early will you know? Could it be weeks? [the game] You quarantine? We must be smart and flexible. ” – David M. Hale and Adam Rittenberg
ESPN reporters Kyle Bonagura, Sam Khan Jr., and Tom Van Haaaren contributed to this report.
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