Football is back.
Well, technically, football practice is back. Actually, it’s not practice at all. In reality, football training is back. And it won’t be the football training players are used to. For the first few weeks, in fact, there will be no footballs used at all.
Welcome to virus-proofed summer workouts.
The NCAA Division I Council’s ruling Wednesday to lift a nationwide ban on on-campus activities from June 1 to June 30 will soon have players flooding back to campuses for voluntary workouts. Yahoo's Pete Thamel first reported the news, which was confirmed by Sports Illustrated's Pat Forde and affects activities in football and men's and women's basketball, for now. The workouts are considered voluntary, meaning no on-field coaches can have interaction with athletes, but strength staff members are expected to be able to supervise activity.
In a normal summer, athletes can spend eight hours a week with interaction from the staff—two hours with on-field coaches and six with strength staffers. It’s unclear when programs will be allowed those normal activities. In a story published on SI last week, conference commissioners said consensus had been reached on a six-week training camp that must start by mid-July in order to kick off the season on time, but even before that, players will ready themselves for camp with workouts that are expected to be much different than normal.
Many schools have created comprehensive safety plans to welcome back their athletes, detailed in a wide-ranging story published Monday at SI. Some programs have secured upwards of 4,000 pairs of gloves. They plan to use disinfectant fogging machines to coat weight rooms and locker rooms. Screening processes will include temperature checks of all players, and most staff and coaches will wear masks throughout the facility. Weights rooms are being adjusted to adhere to social distancing, some even relocating outside. There is to be no showering, high-fiving or sharing water bottles.
And, yes, for the first couple of weeks, there are no footballs allowed. “They are going to want to pick up the ball, but look at re-socialization guidelines: you want to avoid shared equipment in the first phase,” says Mary McLendon, an associate athletic director at Mississippi State overseeing the school’s reopening. Programs plan to follow CDC and NCAA guidelines, phasing in workouts slowly and keeping most to very small groups.
Every school—and every conference—isn’t in the same boat. Each state is under different stages of reopening, including some that haven’t even started the process. At least 18 states aren’t open at all or are in the early stages of opening, and dozens more are at completely different steps in the process—from Georgia, where gyms and salons are open, to Kentucky, which has only opened select essential businesses.
In addition to state laws, there are conference bans to overcome in some leagues. That’s the case in the SEC, where leaders are expected to discuss the topic at a meeting Friday. The Pac-12 met Monday, for now tabling a decision. Other conferences are holding regular meetings on the topic and could pass resolutions lifting bans over the next two to three weeks. However, some leagues are leaving decisions up to their individual schools. That includes the Sun Belt and American Athletic. “We realize there are going to be some inequities,” says AAC commissioner Mike Aresco. “Some campuses will open a little later than others when it comes to that sort of thing.”
Ohio State has already announced its plan to start workouts on June 8. Officials at Houston and LSU had formulated plans to return their players as soon as June 1. Recreation centers and gyms are opening nearby many universities, including some on their campuses. Administrators feel that their facilities will provide a safer environment for athletes. At many schools, the coaching staff has already returned to the office, many of them undergoing daily temperature tests and virus antibody testing.