On Friday, the SEC voted to allow the return of student-athletes to campus for voluntary workouts on June 8. This is a big step in the right direction in hopes of playing a college football season in the fall.
The decision was reached during a meeting of its 14 university chancellors and presidents Friday. Organized team activities had been on hold since March 12, when the coronavirus pandemic hit the country, forcing the cancellation of spring sports, including the NCAA’s postseason basketball tournaments.
With the SEC leading the way, SEC commissioner Greg Sankey joined the Paul Finebaum Show to go behind the scenes of what this whole process was like.
“It goes back to the week after we stopped in March,” Sankey said about the talks of getting athletics underway again. “All discussion and thinking about ‘how do we return to activity?’ and ‘what information do we need?’ … We had an intense argument for two weeks whether we should allow virtual, chalk-talk film back in early March. We prohibited everything — literally — the week after we stopped the basketball tournaments. Everything. You could have individual phone calls, but that was it. No film review. And then it was ‘should we go from zero to two hours of film review?’ It’s all virtual, and that was our first small mountain to climb.
“I just made a decision then to have sub-committees of five that would argue, and then go to the full group of 14. Let’s just have the argument with the full group of 14. That’s a leadership strategy which I think has been really healthy. The action today is weeks of campus work, it is a medical advisory task force involving a medical representative from each of our campuses. Looking at what’s happening with COVID-19, looking at what’s happening with testing, diagnosis tracing and looking at what’s happening around sanitation and hygiene. Combining that into a rapport was providing us some guidance. And then looking at what the NCAA would eventually decide on its policies which is always going to be in the middle of this conversation. But then asking fundamentally ‘What’s the right decision for the Southeastern Conference and our 14 universities?’ and you saw that result today.
“In our meeting today and in a video conference yesterday with our athletic directors, we had four of our medical leaders involved presenting the initial part of their report, knowing that things were going to continue to develop. So that was a first. A lot of questions and answers as well…I identified a recommendation yesterday — different from a lot of speculation. But based on that medical advice, we talked about communication with student-athletes and staff members too. Watching what happened with the NCAA and the decision to return to voluntary activities June 1 and nothing more. So, not our normal requirement. This is voluntary and we need not to lose sight of that, but it is a first step. Combining all of that information, knowing that oversight communication, diagnostic process contemplated a number of weeks. Let’s give two-plus weeks before we open up our weight rooms. People compromising, the commissioner ‘commissionering,’ our campus leaders being campus leaders and contributors — that brought us to a really healthy decision. It’s how we are innovationally…It’s all in the context of states and localities may have different approaches. But we’ve done something in a unanimous way, fundamentally setting a baseline in that people can make decisions in how they operationalize that come June 8.
Schools across the country have been preparing for a return to on-campus activities. Ohio State plans to begin on-campus workouts June 8. Louisville implemented a three-phase plan, with voluntary workouts for 30 football players beginning June 2.
The NCAA and conferences moved to a virtual-only setting for team activities, allowing football programs to utilize video-conferencing technology to conduct team meetings for eight hours per week. The NCAA will allow programs to continue the online instruction through June.
Meanwhile, NCAA members agree a six-week period is needed for football players to train and practice before attempting to begin the season on time. Further measures approving mandatory workouts for two weeks before a four-week schedule of preseason camp will be discussed on the NCAA level as soon as next week, sources told 247Sports.