SEC Roundtable: Players return to campus and other notes from around the league
Alabama – Christopher Walsh, BamaCentral
The University of Alabama is gearing up for the June 8 reopening for workouts, and the remaining players in the latest recruiting class started to arrive Monday morning. However, after shutting things down early and largely avoiding the initial wave of the coronavirus, Tuscaloosa has become a hot spot. The number of confirmed cases went from just over 200 on May 1, to just under 800 on June 1.
Alabama has been largely quiet about how it is approaching the coronavirus, but Nick Saban, men’s basketball coach Nate Oats and athletic director Greg Byrne issued statements about the national protests and ongoing strife.
"I am shocked and angered by the tragic deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery," Saban's statement said. "We're at an important moment for our country, and now is the time for us to choose kinds, tolerance, understanding, empathy, and most importantly ... its time to love each other. Every life is precious, and we must understand we have so many more things that unite us than divide us."
Saban encouraging peaceful protesting in the footsteps of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Rosa Parks was notable, especially since he was a freshman when the Kent State shootings occurred 50 years ago. — Christopher Walsh, BamaCentral
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Auburn – Staff Report
Legendary Auburn football coach Pat Dye, who returned the program to national prominence in the 1980s, passed away Monday at the age of 80. Dye was Auburn's head coach from 1981-92 and its athletics director from 1981-91.
In his 12 seasons as head coach at Auburn, Dye led the Tigers to a 99-39-4 record and won four Southeastern Conference Championships in 1983, '87, '88 and '89. Auburn won 10 or more games four times, finished in the top 10 nationally five times, and won six bowl games.
Dye was instrumental in bringing the Iron Bowl to Auburn for the first time in 1989, a game which the Tigers won, 30-20, and is considered one of the most important events in the history of the program. The playing surface at Jordan-Hare Stadium was named Pat Dye Field in his honor on Nov. 19, 2005 and he was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in December 2005.
Dye was a three-time SEC coach of the year in 1983, '87, and '89 and was national coach of the year in 1983.
"For four decades, Coach Dye showed all of us what it looks like to be an Auburn person,” athletic director Allen Greene said.
Greene also took to social media to express his thoughts about racial injustice.
Florida – Zach Goodall, AllGators
Florida has followed the SEC's lead on returning players for voluntary workouts, bringing players back in waves from May 26th through June 8th. The university is testing the student-athletes upon arrival and daily screenings while partaking in social distancing measures during the workout, so the measures to ensure safety on site are being taken. Four mental health counselors are also provided for those who would seek one.
However, gatherings outside of workouts are bound to happen. The Gainesville scene was vibrant on Saturday with a protest in the national response to the death of George Floyd that went on for several hours, until a man was arrested for driving through the crowd and charged with six counts of aggravated assault. There's no knowing if any players were there, and this isn't to speculate that there were any, but gatherings are naturally increasing and the national outrage is leading to mass events. Gainesville is a small town; Restaurants are open - with social distancing protocols, but nevertheless. Considering how contagious COVID-19 is, it will be worth watching how any school responds to a mass amount of positive tests. This could, of course, cause a ripple effect across the country starting at any school.
University president Kent Fuchs and Gators head coach Dan Mullen, among others, have released statements and spoken out on the current events of the country. Mullen stands in unison with players and coaches who use their platform to condemn racism and oppression, and Fuchs condemned the police killing of Floyd and pleaded for change regarding racism and hatred towards African Americans in the United States.
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LSU – Glen West, LSU Country
LSU will reopen, like many of the SEC schools on June 8 with voluntary workouts. The Tigers started reporting for a weeklong testing and meetings on Monday, with a team meeting set for Tuesday. Ed Orgeron recently talked extensively about his plan.
Peaceful protests have been going on in downtown New Orleans and Baton Rouge all weekend and some of LSU's most prominent figures have spoken out.
"Just a lot of people coming together for a good cause, trying to create change the only way we know how. I'm glad it went peacefully," LSU basketball's Skylar Mays said. "I have my sisters out here and this just means a lot to us, for our generation it's starting to become normal that black people are getting killed by cops. It's sad because there are a lot of great cops out here that do their job the right way."
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Ole Miss – Nate Gabler, The Grove Report
Ole Miss welcomed athletes back to campus on Monday. That June 1 return was step one in a long process. About 70 players and staffers returned to the Manning Center, beginning around 7 a.m. This group was returning players who live off campus. Returners who live on-campus will report Friday. Freshmen and incoming transfers will not report until June 15.
Upon return, Ole Miss athletics had set up COVID-19 and antibody testing for all players and staffers. They expected a 24-hour turnaround. Players then went through physicals and questionnaires, everything happening with athletes practicing social distancing, separated by six feet. For a photo gallery and a better idea of what went down when players showed up on campus, see here.
For now, it seems like Ole Miss is moving ahead under the impression that it will be all-systems-go by the time the season kicks off against Baylor in September. The team's social media feeds are still pushing season tickets and all administrators talked to said that, at this point, there are no plans to move or postpone any games.
Meanwhile, a handful of Ole Miss athletes and coaches have been very vocal and outspoken regarding the issues of racial injustices and protest stemming from George Floyd's death in Minnesota.
Of the most important and critical of the voices came from Kenny Yeboah, a transfer tight end that grew up in Pennsylvania and the Northeast. Yeboah voiced concern, particularly speaking out against the state flag of Mississippi, one that still dons the Confederate crest.
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Mississippi State – Joel Coleman, Cowbell Corner
As athletes return to campus the school is implementing what it has called a phased approach to getting things going. Players have been slated to come in, several each day, as MSU tests for COVID-19 and works toward the June 8 start of voluntary activities. Even then though, like around the country, things still of course won’t be normal, as evidenced by what Mississippi State associate athletic director Mary McLendon told Sports Illustrated’s Ross Dellenger last month.
“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,” said McLendon.
Nevertheless, athletes being back on campus is one step closer to normal, and one step closer to a fall in which athletes play and, if all goes well between now and then, fans can watch.
In regards to the national discussion following the death of George Floyd, Starkville has been quiet in terms of protests (though a peaceful one is in the planning stages for an upcoming date). Mississippi State coaches and administrators have all been speaking out and showing support for solidarity, unity and change.
Athletic director John Cohen was among the first at MSU to share thoughts.
“Everyone deserves to be treated equally and feel safe,” Cohen said. “We must find a way to bring people together through thoughtful, meaningful and positive change. We must do our part to ensure voices are heard and support is provided. Together we can make a difference. Together we can be a part of a solution. Together we are stronger.”
South Carolina – Chaunte’l Powell, Gamecock Digest
The Gamecocks are back on campus this week to receive COVID-19 testing before hitting the field on June 8. There is protocol in place in terms of how the workouts will look, how the players health will be monitored and what to do in case someone tests positive.
The team expects the workouts, which will be done in small groups, to hold them over until they figure out when actual football practice can take place. Head coach Will Muschamp has been pretty adamant about preparing as though the season will start on time.
As far as protest and George Floyd's death:
The whole athletic department with the exception of the baseball and softball coaches have at minimum released statements.
Women's basketball coach Dawn Staley has been the most vocal, having spoken out from the beginning and even attending a protest. This has trickled down to the players like women’s basketball forward Laeticia Amihere and quarterback Ryan Hilinksi, who was believed to have attended a protest as well. The statements can be seen here.
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Vanderbilt – Greg Arias, Commodore Country
Despite the SEC date of June 8 to begin reopening school facilities for individual workouts, Vanderbilt has not announced plans for student-athletes to return or the opening of athletic facilities as of this writing. The Commodores are in the process of welcoming a new chancellor with Daniel Deirmeir set to take control of the university July, 1 replacing interim chancellor Susan R. Wente, who will return to her previous post as vice-chancellor.
Vanderbilt also has a new athletics director with Candice Storey-Lee having been named to that position last month after serving in the role as interim since the resignation of Malcolm Turner in February.
While the announcement could come at any time, Vanderbilt has stated previously that plans includes four "phases" for reopening, with things currently in Phase One, In that phase, Vanderbilt shared that its ramp-up may not follow that of the city of Nashville, but may "lag" behind Nashville's restart.