The voluntary strength and conditioning programs allowed by the NCAA starting as soon as June 1 come with stipulations and precautions due the COVID-19 pandemic that ended organized college athletics in March, but it does put football programs on track to begin on schedule in the upcoming season.
SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey said the plan is to start college football on time, which is slated to start Aug. 29.
“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,” said SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey. “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.”
The SEC’s Return to Activity and Medical Guidance Task Force helped guide the move. The task force was created by the SEC’s presidents and chancellors in April and is comprised of a cross-section of leading public health, infectious disease and sports medicine professionals from across the SEC’s 14 member institutions. The SEC said the task force will remain active to provide continued advice and guidance to the conference and its members as they prepare for a return to competition.
Strength and conditioning training is essential before beginning organized practices and Sankey said it’s best done at the schools.
“Thanks to the blueprint established by our task force and the dedicated efforts of our universities and their athletics programs, we will be able to provide our student-athletes with far better health and wellness education, medical and psychological care and supervision than they would otherwise receive on their own while off campus or training at public facilities as states continue to reopen,” Sankey said.
Greg Byrne, University of Alabama director of athletics, said June 8 will begin a phased approach toward the start of the football season.
“The health and safety of everyone, including our student-athletes, coaches, staff and fans has been, and will continue to be at the forefront as we prepare to return,” Byrne said. “We appreciate the leadership and guidance of the Southeastern Conference and its Return to Activity and Medical Guidance Task Force throughout this situation to best equip our campuses with educational materials and recommendations on best practices. Resumption of voluntary in-person activity is an important step in moving us towards the fall athletic season, which we are fully preparing for with a phased approach beginning June 8. In addition to our public health officials, we are fortunate to have an elite sports medicine staff here at Alabama, from our athletic trainers to our team doctors that we will continue to take direction from as we make decisions for a safe return. We look forward to welcoming back our student-athletes, coaches and staff to campus.”
Auburn Athletic Director Allen Greene and Auburn coach Gus Malzahn said they are in favor of the move.
“As always, the health and well-being of our student-athletes and the Auburn family remains our highest priority,” Greene said. “We support the SEC presidents’ and chancellors’ decision to reopen our facilities for voluntary in-person athletics activities. Through extensive collaboration, campus colleagues have developed plans to safely manage the return of our student-athletes. To build on this momentum, it is imperative that we proceed with a great deal of discipline and flexibility, with the end goal of conducting fall activities as previously scheduled.”
Malzahn said it puts football on the path to having a season.
“The SEC and Auburn leadership have been tremendous through this process and we appreciate the efforts of the SEC Task Force, which includes our team physician, Dr. Michael Goodlett,” he said. “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.”
As part of its recommendations, the task force prepared a series of best practices for screening, testing, monitoring, tracing, social distancing and maintaining cleaned environments.
“While each institution will make its own decisions in creating defined plans to safely return student-athletes to activity, it is essential to employ a collaborative approach that involves input from public health officials, coaches, sports medicine staff, sports performance personnel and student-athletes,” Sankey said. “Elements of the task force recommendations provided key guidance for determining the date of the return to activity.”
In addition to facility cleaning and social distancing guidelines, recommended enhanced health and safety measures include:
- Enhanced education of all team members on health and wellness best practices, including but not limited to preventing the spread of COVID-19.
- A three-stage screening process that involves screening before student-athletes arrive on campus, within 72 hours of entering athletics facilities and on a daily basis on 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 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (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.
During June, NCAA regulations permit only strength and conditioning personnel to supervise voluntary on-campus athletics activities in the sports of football and men’s and women’s basketball. A current waiver that permits eight hours of virtual film review has been extended through June 30 for football and basketball.
Consistent with NCAA regulations, organized practices and other required physical activities remain prohibited in all sports. A previously announced suspension of in-person camps and coaches clinics conducted by SEC institutions remains in effect until July 31.