(AP) Southeastern Conference schools will be able to bring athletes in all sports back to campus for voluntary activities starting June 8 at the discretion of each university.
The SEC’s announcement Friday is the latest sign that a college football season will be launched in some form this fall. Other conferences are expected to follow suit, though decisions could be left to individual schools.
The move comes two days after the NCAA Division I Council voted to lift a moratorium on voluntary workouts on campus by football and basketball players, effective June 1. The NCAA updated that ruling Friday by saying voluntary activities would be allowed in all sports starting June 1.
“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,” SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey said.
SEC officials noted any workouts would take place “under strict supervision of designated university personnel and safety guidelines developed by each institution.” They referred to June 8 as the start of “transition period that will allow student-athletes to gradually adapt to full training and sports activity after this recent period of inactivity.”
Permitted actions are limited by the NCAA to voluntary activities supervised by strength and conditioning personnel. Georgia athletic director Greg McGarity said it was “only the first step with further details and plans coming over the next several days and weeks.”
“This is an important first step toward having a season this fall, and we will continue to collectively work together as our top priority is to ensure the safety and well-being of our student-athletes, coaches and staff,” Auburn coach Gus Malzahn said in a statement.
The SEC decided to resume athletic activities with the guidance of a league task force that includes public health, infectious disease and sports medicine professionals from each of the league’s 14 member schools.
The task force prepared a series of best practices for screening, testing, monitoring, tracing, social distancing and maintaining clean environments to serve as a guide for each school.
Recommendations included testing of symptomatic team members (including athletes, coaches and staffers) as well as screening athletes before they arrive on campus within 72 hours of entering athletic facilities and on a daily basis once they resume athletic activities.
Other recommendations include immediate isolation of team members who are diagnosed with COVID-19 or are under investigation, followed by contact tracing under Centers for Disease Control and local public health guidelines.
“Health and safety have been our top priority as we’ve gone about this planning process, and we’ll continue to follow guidance from medical experts and health officials as we navigate the coming weeks,” Tennessee athletic director Phillip Fulmer said. “Our staff and student-athletes should be prepared for a ‘new normal,’ as we’ll be implementing changes to how everyone accesses and uses our facilities.”
SEC officials said the task force’s recommendations could provide a guide to league members, Sankey noted that each school would get to make its own decisions regarding plans for how to make sure student-athletes return safely.
For example, even though the task force’s recommendations only mentioned testing symptomatic team members, Georgia senior associate athletic director for sports medicine Ron Courson said in a statement that the Bulldogs “will conduct COVID testing and perform medical evaluations on all student-athletes.”
A Big 12 Conference moratorium on in-person team activities and voluntary workouts currently goes through May 31, a few days after spring meetings by leaders of the conference’s 10 schools who have discussed options in bi-weekly calls since the pandemic outbreak shut down sports more than two months ago.
Big 12 Commissioner Bob Bowlsby has said football teams would need six weeks or so to get ready to play, including some time for players to get reacclimated before a traditional preseason camp. Based on the current schedule for season openers on Labor Day weekend, that would mean teams would need to be back together by around mid-July.
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott said Friday he thinks college football will return on schedule with at least some spectators. Abbott has already issued new rules to allow youth sports leagues to resume in June and for some professional leagues to hold events without spectators.
“Once we get to college football season, our goal right now is to have college football season start as planned, with fans in stands,” Abbott said in an interview with Austin television station KXAN. “What we don’t know is what the capacity level would be.”