SEC votes to allow on-campus activities beginning June 8
College sports aren't officially back — not quite yet, at least. But Friday, the SEC took a major step toward the return of sports on conference campuses. The conference announced in a release that it will permit member schools to resume on-campus athletics activities beginning June 8.
Presidents and chancellors from each of the 14 SEC institutions agreed on June 8 during a call Friday, saying student-athletes must be "under strict supervision of designated university personnel and safety guidelines developed by each institution." The conference had issued a moratorium on practices and workouts on March 13 as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The SEC's decision comes two days after the NCAA announced it would lift its ban on on-campus activities at the end of the month. The release Includes stipulations that workouts must follow state and local health regulations and include safe social distancing practices. SEC commissioner Greg Sankey said the conference is preparing for fall sports, including football, to begin as previously scheduled.
“The safe and healthy return of our student-athletes, coaches, administrators and our greater university communities have been and will continue to serve as our guiding principle as we navigate this complex and constantly-evolving situation,” Sankey said in the release. “At this time, we are preparing to begin the fall sports season as currently scheduled, and this limited resumption of voluntary athletic activities on June 8 is an important initial step in that process."
As a result of the decision, Missouri is expected to bring football, men's basketball and women's basketball players back to campus on June 8. Athletics director Jim Sterk echoed Sankey's optimism that this will allow fall sports to begin on time.
"Our goal remains an on time start to the fall sports season for all of our teams, and having football, men's basketball and women's basketball players return June 8 for voluntary workouts is the first step on that journey forward in today's challenging climate. I expect that at some point down the road the NCAA and SEC will allow student-athletes from other sports to return, and when they do, we will likely phase those in starting with the remaining fall sports teams."
First-year head football coach Eli Drinkwitz expressed appreciation for the opportunity to resume workouts soon.
"I'm excited and appreciative that the chancellors and presidents voted for us to return voluntarily on June 8," Drinkwitz said by phone. "Obviously the health and safety of our players are first and foremost, and we're going to follow the proper protocols. We have a repopulation committee that's made of up doctors and epidemiologists, trainers and our strength staff, and so we've got a great plan in place to make sure these guys are safe while they're here and excited for us to get back on track to play football in the fall."
The SEC's decision was made with guidance from a conference task force, according to its release. The task force has recommended that member schools follow the additional guidelines as student-athletes return to workouts, though it appears doing so will not be mandatory.
* Enhanced education of all team members on health and wellness best practices, including but not limited to preventing the spread of COVID-19
* A 3-stage screening process that involves screening before student-athletes arrive on campus, within 72 hours of entering athletics facilities and on a daily basis upon resumption of athletics activities
* Testing of symptomatic team members (including all student-athletes, coaches, team support and other appropriate individuals)
* Immediate isolation of team members who are under investigation or diagnosed with COVID-19 followed by contact tracing, following CDC and local public health guidelines
* A transition period that allows student-athletes to gradually adapt to full training and sport activity following a period of inactivity
Sterk spoke with reporters last week and said Missouri had already been repopulating its athletics facilities with employees, and that the department was taking such precautions as taking everyone's temperature prior to entry and having employees work In shifts that did not overlap. For instance, the offensive assistants on the football staff were working in the mornings and the defensive coaches in the afternoons. At the time, Sterk said he did not yet know what testing and preventative measures would look like once student-athletes returned.
“The student-athlete side, that’ll be another level, if you will, because they’re going to be coming from different areas,” Sterk said. “How long do we quarantine? Do we have everyone take a test? We haven’t determined all that yet, and I’ll take advice from the medical officials on the best way to do that.”
Missouri is not expected to bring Its football and men's and women's basketball athletes back to campus in waves; starting June 8, all of those players are able to return to athletics activities. Several athletes have remained on campus during the shutdown. Speaking to reporters last week, Sterk said he hadn't heard any athletes express concern about returning, but if any felt uncomfortable, "I'm sure the coaches would be understanding."
NCAA rules only permit June activities to be supervised by strength and conditioning coaches rather than the full-time staff, and that will remain the case despite the fact that most football teams missed most or all of spring practices. Missouri held just three of its 15 scheduled practices. In addition, a previously announced suspension of in-person camps and coaches clinics conducted by SEC institutions remains in effect until July 31.