The Southeastern Conference is ready to return to the weight rooms and practice fields.
The conference will allow voluntary workouts to begin June 8 across its campuses.
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.
Universities will have full discretion on whether to return June 8 and must also follow state and local health directives concerning group activities.
The presidents and chancellors were guided by the SC’s Return to Activity and Medical Guidance Task Force.
“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,” SEC commissioner Greg Sankey said in a statement. “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. 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.”
The NCAA Division I Council approved Wednesday voluntary workouts in football, men’s basketball and women’s basketball could begin June 1. The NCAA had previously placed a moratorium on all team activities through May, but re-evaluated its position as states begin to reopen businesses across the country.
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.
Widespread and repetitive testing will be needed across campuses to maintain safety, and protocols on how to deal and treat infected student-athletes will vary from school to school. Infection disease expert Dr. Michael Saag believes it will be difficult to maintain a 12-game schedule across college football in the fall.
“The likelihood of us getting through the entire season without a hiccup, I’d be very surprised, but I’d love to see us give it a shot,” infectious disease expert Dr. Michael Saag of the University of Alabama at Birmingham told 247Sports.
The SEC also enacted several safety measures to guide its programs:
- 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