While the college sports world remains in a state of flummox, LSU athletic director Scott Woodward is confident that things will start returning to normal very soon. Woodward said in an interview Wednesday evening on the "Coaches Caravan" that the LSU administration is preparing for student-athletes to return in June.
“I see sometime in June our student-athletes getting back to campus," Woodward said.
As of now, all athletic events have been canceled through May 31, leaving the door slightly cracked for a return to normalcy sometime in the coming weeks. It remains to be seen if the SEC will extend that date but it's a scenario Woodward says the athletic department is preparing for as well.
States have already begun the reopening process, including Louisiana as Governor John Bel Edwards recently lifted the "stay-at-home" order which will go into effect starting Friday. Businesses can start opening up to 25% capacity in Louisiana and other SEC heavy states like Georgia, Florida and Alabama have all started opening up as well.
On May 22, the SEC presidents will be voting on whether to allow student-athletes back on campus on either June 1 or June 15, according to LSU executive Verge Ausberry.
Woodward and the athletic administration's top priority is making sure that if student-athletes are allowed to return at some point in June, the school will be ready and safe.
"We have top concern for our student-athletes,” Woodward said. “We're making sure that is paramount, that we do these things we can control because that's one thing in our hands that we can help and we can do better.”
There are three phases that Woodward pointed to as benchmark goals for the athletic department to achieve. The first phase has already started as the Tigers' coaching staff was allowed to return to work in the football ops facility last week.
The next phase is what Woodward and the administration are preparing for right now, student-athletes being back on campus. Whether it's frequent testing, taking temperatures and cleaning the various athletic facilities on a daily basis, the LSU athletic department is making the proper health regulations to ensure the athletes are safe once they return.
Woodward is of the belief that athletes being back on campus will benefit them tremendously as LSU has the resources from a nutrition and a health standpoint that is far better than what they might be getting at home.
"It's kind of a three pronged approach that we're taking and we've already gotten our staff back in football," Woodward said. "We have really strict guidelines of what and how we practice being around folks with masks and proper social distancing. We kind of led the league in terms of protocols and how to do that. These athletes are prospering and chomping at the bit to get back."
Once athletes are back, which again Woodward expects to happen sometime in June, the first step, at least from a football perspective, is making sure all of the players are healthy. Coach Ed Orgeron said then strength and conditioning coach Tommy Moffitt would take over in the weight room to start the process of getting players into proper shape.
Phase three of the plan is one that has a far more unpredictable limb attached to it. When can we expect to have fans back in the stands?
"This is the one we have no idea about,” Woodward said. “When are we going to get butts in the seats? I don't know the answer to that. I think probably middle of the summer sometime we're going to have to decide what we want to do.”
One of the leaders behind LSU's groundbreaking three phase plan is senior associate athletic director Shelly Mullenix. Mullenix said it's been an effort for all of the athletic trainers to remain in constant communication with all of the athletes throughout this quarantine.
"It's something that we were doing anyway but I think it's different when you're talking to someone on the phone as opposed to seeing them in person," Mullenix said.
There seems to be a light at the end of the tunnel for the first time in two months. While many questions still need to be answered, there is hope on the horizon with that May 31 suspension the big date to keep an eye on.
"We are planning and we are doing everything we can to control that we're playing on Labor Day weekend," Woodward said. "You can rest assured that our effort is to play football and to play 12 games this season."