The NCAA voted Wednesday to allow football, and men’s and women’s basketball teams to return to campuses for voluntary activities starting June 1, but the Gophers and other teams might wait longer.
Individual schools will have to work within state government guidelines and overall campus policies to determine when and how to return safely.
“A return to campus date has not yet been determined for our student-athletes, but we will follow plans developed by President Joan Gabel and her leadership team to thoughtfully and carefully resume University operations, including ours in Gopher Athletics,” Gophers athletic director Mark Coyle said in a statement. “We will work closely with our campus leadership and take action based on guidance from state and public health officials, and the University’s own medical and public health experts.”
Under Minnesota’s current Stay Safe MN plan, gyms would not be open as of June 1, though the state government will allow outdoor activities and gatherings of 10 or fewer people. The university has canceled all in-person classes through the summer.
University public relations director Jake Ricker said in a statement that any plan to return to campus “would consider the latest guidance and data available to mitigate risks and provide a safe and healthy environment for not only the student-athletes, but coaches and staff as well.”
The Big Ten previously announced a suspension of team activities through June 1, with the conference’s presidents and chancellors next meeting June 7 to discuss any potential conference regulations after the NCAA’s ruling.
Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith told reporters he intends to begin team workouts June 8, starting with local players.
“We feel that the facilities we have, with the protocols that we can put in place, is the best-protected environment [as opposed to public gyms],” Smith said.
Some other schools, such as LSU, have targeted June 1 as a return date. But these staggered resumptions across the country could lead to fairness issues.
Some states, such as Illinois, are still shut down. Others, such as New York, Pennsylvania and California, are only barely beginning processes to reopen. Schools in those areas could have a much-more-delayed return, which could cause them to lag behind the competition once the football season begins in late August.
“We encourage each school to use its discretion to make the best decisions possible for football and basketball student-athletes within the appropriate re-socialization framework,” NCAA Division I Council chair M. Grace Calhoun said per a release. “Allowing for voluntary athletics activity acknowledges that reopening our campuses will be an individual decision but should be based on advice from medical experts.”
The voluntary activities that football and basketball programs can hold from June 1 through June 30 will not be full practices, and instead will be more like summer workouts with the strength and conditioning staff.
Something resembling a training camp could happen as early as mid-July, per a Sports Illustrated report.
But none of these activities will look like it has in the past. SI detailed several potential changes, such as athletes and staff wearing gloves and masks and undergoing screening procedures, including temperature checks, before entering team facilities.
Weight rooms will be rearranged to account for social distancing, with small groups of players moving through the facility in almost conveyor-belt fashion, cleaning crews disinfecting after them. No showering, no communal water bottles, no high-fiving teammates.
Testing teams for the virus is another unknown. Tests cost around $100 each, per Yahoo Sports, and schools and their local governments will have to decide on potential testing protocols.