Southeastern Conference schools will have athletes back on campus starting June 8 with an eye toward moving forward with fall sports, including football, as scheduled.
The SEC announced Friday that member institutions are allowed to have athletes back on campus for voluntary workouts starting on that date under “strict supervision of designated university personnel and safety guidelines developed by each institution.”
The SEC said its intent is to begin a transition period that will allow athletes to gradually adapt to training and sports activity. The decision was made by the league’s Return to Activity and Medical Guidance Task Force, a cross-section of public health, infectious disease and sports medicine professionals from the 14 member institutions.
“The safe and healthy return of our student-athletes, coaches, administrators and our greater university communities have been and will continue to serve as our guiding principle as we navigate this complex and constantly-evolving situation,” SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey said in the release. “At this time, we are preparing to begin the fall sports season as currently scheduled, and this limited resumption of voluntary athletic activities on June 8 is an important initial step in that process.”
The announcement ends a moratorium on on-campus athletic activities that began March 12, when spring sports athletics were canceled because of COVID-19 beginning with the SEC Men’s Basketball Tournament and the first weekend of conference play in baseball. Five days later, all spring sports were canceled.
“Our staff and student-athletes should be prepared for a ‘new normal,’ as we’ll be implementing changes to how everyone accesses and uses our facilities,” Tennessee athletics director Phillip Fulmer said. “We plan to be extremely diligent in maintaining a healthy environment for our student-athletes, coaches and support staffs. In the coming days, we’ll execute procedures enabling student-athletes to return, with members of our football program being the first to arrive. We will conduct screening leading up to the resumption of activities on June 8.”
Said LSU coach Ed Orgeron, “This is a great first step to take in order for us to get back to playing the great game of college football in the fall.”
The task force provided schools with a series of best practices for screening, testing, social distancing, cleaning and other precautions to make on-campus facilities safe for athletes. In addition to those practices, the SEC recommended further education of all athletes on health and wellness best practices, a three-stage screening process before athletes arrive on campus and testing and immediate isolation of symptomatic players.
“This is an important first step toward having a season this fall,” Auburn football coach Gus Malzahn said, “and we will continue to collectively work together as our top priority is to ensure the safety and well-being of our student-athletes, coaches and staff.”
The action comes two days after the NCAA Division I Council voted to allow athletes in football, men’s basketball and women’s basketball to return to campus for voluntary workouts beginning June 1.
Scott Stricklin, Florida’s athletics director, said the school’s athlete wellness group has worked with campus health officials on a plan.
“They have developed a gradual phasing program so that we don’t have an influx of a large number of student-athletes returning at once,” Stricklin said. “Football, volleyball and soccer teams will return in phases … in the month of June.”
In March, Alabama football coach Nick Saban said he hoped to use summer workouts as a way to replace spring practice.
“If there was a way we could have 14 days of teaching with our players sometime before fall camp happens, I think that probably would be beneficial,” Saban said. “Historically we’re not allowed to work with our players in the summertime. This would be hypothetical that at some point in time in the summer, we would have the players back here and we would be able to work with them. I’m not talking about having pads on, but just be able to teach system, teach scheme.”
The NCAA, however, limited current voluntary workouts to those led by strength and conditioning personnel.
LSU athletics director Scott Woodward said on a teleconference last week — before the NCAA Division I Council’s action — that the school was preparing for a June 1 return and playing football on Labor Day weekend.
“Texas A&M athletics has constantly gathered input from local health officials, and we have been very busy planning for the return to athletic activity,” Texas A&M athletics director Ross Bjork said in a statement. “We are ready for this moment, and I want to thank our health and performance working group for putting together a great plan.”
Sankey said each school will make its own decisions on how to proceed.
“While each institution will make its own decisions in creating defined plans to safely return student-athletes to activity, it is essential to employ a collaborative approach that involves input from public health officials, coaches, sports medicine staff, sports performance personnel and student-athletes. Elements of the task force recommendations provided key guidance for determining the date of the return to activity,” he said.