Will Wade Says LSU Basketball Will Be Prepared if NCAA, SEC Vote to Allow Athletes to Return to Campus

Glen West

On Wednesday, the NCAA is expected to hand down a ruling about whether to lift the nationwide restriction of on-campus activities, essentially allowing student-athletes to return as early as June 1. 

The SEC is scheduled to issue a ruling on Friday addressing the very same restrictions, with the presidents expected to vote on whether to have athletes return either June 1 or June 15. The primary focus for all parties involved has been football and making sure athletes can return in a safe and healthy manner with the hopes of starting on time in the fall. 

But what about winter sports like men's and women's basketball? For LSU coach Will Wade and the basketball program, there still is a "to be determined" element as to when players would ultimately be allowed back on campus and what it looks like.

"We've talked about different scenarios because it's not just as simple as returning to campus," Wade told LSUCountry on Tuesday. "It's when they return to campus, what's it going to look like and just because they return to campus doesn't mean we're going to see them face-to-face every day. We're prepared to do things with our guys here, whether it's virtually a little bit or maybe we'll be able to have some contact with them once a day. There's a lot of different scenarios to play out."

From Wade's understanding, the primary focus from an administration standpoint if all goes to plan, is to start by bringing back football players as well as other fall sports like volleyball and soccer. 

Wade said that how smoothly the process is with the football program could influence what happens with some of the winter sports like men's basketball.

"They need to do the fall sports first, football and volleyball and I think soccer are main priorities," Wade said. "To get them back and going is the main thing. I think some of it will be based on how smoothly does it go with football? What does that process look like with them?

"Then men's and women's basketball, winter sports that require summer athletic activity, we'd be next in line."

If the day comes where members of the basketball team are allowed to return to campus, Wade said there is a plan in place. The plan will include a series of phone calls to players and their families to make sure everything is carefully planned out and there is mutual understanding about the health and safety protocols for the players.

Upon arrival, Wade said a comprehensive physical process, one that usually takes a day, would likely take multiple days. Even if all goes well, exactly what the players will and won't be able to do is still to be determined.

"The physical process which is usually done in a day or less than a day is going to take, three maybe four times as long,” Wade said. “There's going to be contact tracing so there's going to be an adjustment but it's an adjustment for the good and it'll keep everybody as safe and healthy as we can."

Wade said the administration, led by athletic director Scott Woodward and senior associate athletic trainer Shelly Mullenix, have been great in providing the details needed to execute such a detail oriented plan. 

Last week during the "Coaches Caravan," Woodward said that there are strict guidelines that have been put in place should the NCAA and SEC elect to lift the moratorium, including wearing masks and practicing proper social distancing.

"The administration has a tremendous plan they've updated us many times, we got an update this morning [Tuesday]," Wade said. "Scott (Woodward), Shelly (Mullenix), the team of doctors have done a phenomenal job and it's going to be different. I think LSU is ready and has a very good plan in place for when we're given the go ahead and the green light to come back. It should be a smooth transition when we're allowed to transition."

In the meantime, while the football staff has been back in the facilities for a few weeks now, Wade and the basketball staff are still doing everything virtually. Because basketball doesn't start until November and this is a down time for the program anyways, there isn't a necessity to rush back to the offices.

"We've been doing everything remotely and our season doesn't start in August so we've got a little bit more time. e need to be as safe as we can be," Wade said. "There's really not a whole lot we're doing, guys just finished up academics and now we're trying to wait and see what happens. Our guys are working out individually and we'll go from there."

LSU is set to welcome in at the very least seven new players to the program in 2020. The coaching staff has been in constant communication with the players but until more is known, that's about all they can do. Because the season is still so far out, there hasn't been any offensive or defensive installations at this point either.

Building that chemistry at an early stage is what made that 2018-19 Sweet Sixteen team so special and a summer trip to Europe last year helped the Tigers grow stronger as a unit. Wade would welcome his players back with open arms but knows the main priority is health and safety.

"I think it'd be great but No. 1 is just safety and health,” Wade said. “We'll keep that at the forefront but we certainly need to start forming and building our team. Hopefully the quicker we get everybody back the quicker we can start that process."