Southeastern Conference athletes can return to campus for voluntary workouts starting June 8, the league presidents voted Friday. It’s the latest step in what’s been a week of positivity surrounding college football’s return.
The SEC became the first of the 10 conferences to lift its own ban on on-campus activities after the NCAA chose Wednesday not to extend its nationwide moratorium that expires May 31. Some conferences, however, don’t have a league-wide ban. Schools in the American Athletic Conference and Mid-American Conference, for instance, are free to reopen their facilities any time after the June 1 date, according to their commissioners. Several Power 5 programs, the Big 12 and Pac-12 included, are expected to meet over the coming days to determine their own return date. Many of them are targeting June 15, officials say. Others, like the Big Ten, are starting earlier. Ohio State recently announced a reopening date of June 8, and Illinois announced that it would begin welcoming back athletes in waves starting June 1.
SEC decision-makers’ opinions on a return date varied by school. Some programs had plans in place to safely open their facilities as early as June 1, and several of them have already announced that they will start on the June 8 date, inducing Missouri, Texas A&M and Florida. Others, meanwhile, may approach reopening at a slower pace, some because of varying state regulations. The 11-state SEC footprint is among those nationally opening at a quicker pace, but there are still varying degrees of reopening. For instance, gyms are open in Florida and Georgia, while Kentucky hasn’t even opened restaurants yet. Kentucky started its reopening later than any other SEC state, phasing in the approach this week while a state like South Carolina began loosening guidelines a month ago.
Though it was reported that Tennessee AD Phillip Fulmer was an outlier against an early return date, several programs held a similar thought, according to those with knowledge of the discussion. Administrators were debating among several dates, most notably June 1, June 8 and June 15. According to guidelines the league released, the SEC will only require virus testing for those showing symptoms. However, schools may have stricter policies. Florida announced that it will test athletes at the start of workouts.
Many schools have created comprehensive safety plans to welcome back their athletes, detailed in a wide-ranging story published Monday at SI. A wide slew of schools have already announced reopenings. Wyoming, for instance, plans to start June 1. Louisville will join Ohio State and begin workouts June 8. The workouts are voluntary, with any coaching interaction prohibited, though strength coaches can be present to supervise. 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. That would begin in early July, as detailed in this Friday story in SI.