CHAMPAIGN, Ill. -- Monday represented the first day of in-person classes at the University of Illinois.
So, without sports being allowed to be played and any extracurricular organizations being able to meet in large groups on campus, what is the plan for the 105 players on the Illini football roster while they wait to hear when or if they’ll be able to play their sport during the 2020-21 academic calendar?
On the night of Aug. 11, when the Big Ten announced it would be eliminating the 2020 fall sports calendar in the hope of possibly playing in the winter or the spring, Illinois head coach Lovie Smith held a virtual team meeting via Zoom video conferencing to offer the players the option to go home if they wanted for the two weeks before classes started on campus. However, the players were also allowed to stay on campus, where the coaches and players have stated they feel safer because of advanced saliva testing available at the U of I, and participate in workouts using team facilities.
“When I say we’ve been talking. We’ve talked about every imaginable thing that could happen...when I say everything has been discussed, it’s not like we’re just getting here right now." - Illinois head football coach Lovie Smith said on Aug. 12.
PLAN FOR ILLINOIS FOOTBALL STARTING ON AUG. 31
- 1-hour virtual Zoom meetings for team and positional groups for five days a weeks
- 90 minutes on-field instruction at Memorial Stadium, grass practice fields and the indoor facility
- 12 total hours per week with Illinois strength and conditioning coach Lou Hernandez and his staff
Since classes at the U of I have begun, Illinois players and coaches will be able to operate under the NCAA’s 12-hour rule of practice policies. After consultation with the Illinois athletics spokesperson, the schedule of Lovie Smith’s staff will include one-hour virtual meetings for five days a week and 90 minutes of on-field instruction three days a week. The rest of the time for players in that week will be led by Illini strength and conditioning coach Lou Hernandez and his staff.
It should be noted that the on-field instruction will be just in helmets and shorts as the Big Ten Conference has yet to allow any teams to have full-contact practices. The on-field instruction for the Illini is set to begin again on Monday, Aug. 31.
“Eventually we’re going to have football so we’re going to embrace that time whenever it comes. If things change and they tell us it’s the spring, we’ll look forward to the spring,” Smith said Saturday.
This time from now and whenever/if ever a training camp would start for a winter or spring season will serve as a replacement for the 2020 spring season of workouts that were abolished because of the COVID-19 shutdown of all college campuses including the U of I.
Smith said repeatedly during the month of August in his post-practice Zoom media conferences that the missed opportunity for development of younger players was a big loss for the Illini program that has several inexperienced underclassmen looking to possibly earn starting spots in a 2021 fall season.
“The approach that we take each day is whatever we’re presented with is what we’re going to do,” Smith said. “I got the message before practice (Saturday) that we would stay in the same phase we were in for the first two practices. I’m talking helmets, jerseys and shorts. We missed all spring practice, so there’s a lot of fundamental work we need to get done.”