The SEC will allow voluntary in-person athletics activities on its campuses beginning June 8, the conference announced Friday.
In a news release, the SEC said return-to-campus decisions will be made “at the discretion of each university” and will be done so “under strict supervision of designated university personnel and safety guidelines developed by each institution.”
The SEC had previously suspended all athletic activities through May 31 amid the coronavirus pandemic. However, the NCAA’s Division I Council voted Wednesday to end the national moratorium on all athletic activities effective May 31, opening the door for conferences to do the same.
The June 8 date will signify a “transition period” that will permit student-athletes on SEC campuses to “gradually adapt to full training and sports activity after this recent period of inactivity.”
Friday’s decision was made in consultation with the SEC’s Return to Activity and Medical Guidance Task Force. Plans for returning to campuses must be consistent with “local and state health directives” and done so in “controlled and safe environments while maintaining recommended social distancing measures.”
Sankey: SEC preparing to start season on time
In a statement, SEC commissioner Greg Sankey said the conference is preparing to begin the fall sports season “as currently scheduled,” despite the disruption to offseason programs amid the pandemic.
“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. “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.”
In his statement, Sankey said that the resources available on college campuses will benefit student-athletes who have been at home in recent months.
“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.
Of course there are also massive financial implications on the line. According to a recent study from Washington University that was commissioned by ESPN, schools in the Power Five conferences could lose in the neighborhood of $4 billion if football is not played in 2020.
SEC establishes best practices for safety
The Task Force has established best practices for “screening, testing, monitoring, tracing, social distancing and maintaining cleaned environments” that will provide the framework for student-athletes returning to campus safely.
While standard infection prevention measures as mandated by public health authorities will continue, the SEC has also established an array of other safety recommendations. Those include a “three-stage screening process” before an athlete arrives on campus and testing of those who show COVID-19 symptoms.
Below are the conference’s set of health and safety recommendations:
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
Most schools will resume activities June 8
Shortly after the SEC’s announcement, schools started releasing their own protocols and revealing that they would allow workouts to begin as soon as possible. Football players at Florida, for example, can return to campus on May 26 and start lifting on June 8.
Vanderbilt didn’t offer a specific date, however. It referred to its “Return to Campus” plan in a statement without outlining steps the football team would take. Kentucky didn’t offer specifics either.
“With the NCAA and SEC approving a return to activity, we will now work with our partners at the state and local government and university levels to determine the date that our student-athletes will come back,” Kentucky athletic director Mitch Barnhart said in a statement. “We will not compromise the safety and well-being of our student-athletes in this process, taking all possible precautions. Once we take this important step in returning to activity, we will shift our focus to preparing to return to play and bringing the entire UK family — student-athletes, coaches and fans alike — back together this fall in a responsible and safe way.”
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