The NCAA announced this week that it will allow football, men’s basketball and women’s basketball programs to start voluntary practices June 1, and that is good news for colleges around the country.
While the University of Minnesota has said it will wait to open its campus until local officials say it is OK, football coach P.J. Fleck said this past week that he and his staff are ready whenever they are given the go-ahead to work with players.
“Once we find out we can practice, we’ll put the plans in immediately,” Fleck said. “I think everybody is looking at this June 1 date as something that has been thrown around but is not definite. I think everybody is hopeful for that. We want to make sure our players are in a safe environment. I know that [University of Minnesota] President [Joan] Gable and [athletic director] Mark Coyle will make sure that happens.”
Fleck said it hasn’t been difficult not knowing when practice will start, because he knows that once teams are allowed to go, they will all get the same amount of practice time.
“We will backdate it, just like everybody in the Big Ten will, and we’re prepared for every situation possible,” he said. “We’ll have a great plan come when we get some more information.”
You would think the Gophers coach would be disappointed to have to wait for this season after coming off one of the best campaigns in school history in 2019 with an 11-2 record, a win over Auburn in the Outback Bowl and a final ranking of No. 10 in the Associated Press poll.
But Fleck doesn’t see it that way.
“Well, the one thing about this is it’s fair because everyone is in the same situation, everybody has to deal with the quarantine in their own ways, but it’s equal across the board,” the 2019 Big Ten Coach of the Year said. “I think the best teams, the best cultures, will come out of this maybe ahead just because we have had a lot more football than we normally do. Once the middle of April hits you’re done with football, really, with your players, until you get to the summer, and we’ve been continuing to go all the way through. So it has been able to help us a little bit in the football department.”
Fleck said he and his coaching staff have been in contact with players regularly.
“Every day. We’re keeping track. Our position coaches do a lot of work with them,” he said. “You’re allowed so many mandatory hours per week through CARA [countable athletically related activities], but now we have to be able to start looking at how we’re going to be able to carry this over as we go forward.”
Has he found the players open to being available even while they are remotely learning?
“They’re available all the time. They have their schoolwork, which they finished up, they all got that done and finals is finally done,” Fleck said. “We still have all of our position meetings daily, our team meetings and our virtual voice-overs. Our staff has been working really hard.”
Thinks players are ready
No matter when practices start, they will be voluntary for players during the summer.
But Fleck said he believes that his team is excited to get back on the field and build off last season.
“Oh I think they’re champing at the bit to get back,” Fleck said. “I think they’re really close to hopefully opening some things back up for them, even if it’s voluntary. It’s going to be really exciting here coming up.
“I know everybody wants sports back, but the No. 1 thing we want is the safety of our kids. Being able to feed them, have the nutrition that they need, but also somehow, some way, whenever it’s right, to get back to some football.”
Internal, external pressure
Whenever the club comes back, expectations are going to be sky-high after the team came in under the radar last season.
“This is a team that is made up of a lot of individual players, but one thing I love about this team is they’re all leaders, they all care for each other, they all come together,” Fleck said. “But you know everybody, with what we have done last year, there are high expectations. Last year they were high internally, but now there is external expectations. That’s another thing our players are going to have to deal with.
“We’re looking forward to having them do that. It’s a different type of pressure. But if we can just keep focusing on ourselves, find a way to be better today than we were yesterday, I think we’re going to be fine.”
One thing is sure, Fleck and his staff are making the most of a unique time off the field.
“We have a saying that if you’re bored during this time, you are not doing it right,” Fleck said. “There are always things to do, always people to study, we have already gone on to our conference opponents. Our staff is already working really hard on them.
“But this is not time off. I think that is the one thing that is unique right now.”
• Give the Vikings credit for completely turning around their salary cap situation. They entered the offseason with the lowest salary cap space in the league but now stand at No. 21. Their salary cap space for the 2021 season stands at $29.5 million.
• Reports out of Silicon Valley show that Pohlad Companies — owned by Twins executives Jim, Bob and Bill Pohlad — made a capital investment in Aspiration, a socially minded banking company whose CEO is Andrei Cherny, a former speechwriter for President Bill Clinton. Also on the board of the company is actor Leonardo DiCaprio.
• Pro Football Focus named Gophers wideout Rashod Bateman one of the three best receivers in college football: “He possesses great route-running ability, he wins at a high rate in contested-catch situations and he is electric with the ball in his hands.”
• With MLB likely to have expanded rosters, look for prospect Edwar Colina to get a chance with the Twins. “He’s a righthanded pitcher who is currently starting, could be out of the pen,” General Manager Thad Levine said earlier this year. “He throws 96 to 100 miles per hour with one of the better sliders we have in our whole system.”
• Newest Vikings quarterback Nate Stanley had a lot of success against the Gophers during his career at Iowa. He went 3-0 and threw for 677 yards and seven touchdowns.
• 247Sports lists Minneapolis native and former Minnehaha Academy standout Trevon Howard as the No. 232 football prospect in the country in the Class of 2022. Howard, a safety, is playing at IMG Academy in Florida, where the Gophers have landed a number of recruits. Meanwhile, Caledonia standout Eli King is the No. 1-rated prospect out of Minnesota. Gophers assistant Matt Simon is leading the recruiting of both players.