It has been obvious for a few weeks that the SEC is developing plans to play fall sports at member institutions. A stumbling block has been the insistence by NCAA President Mark Emmert and officials at some universities that no games will be played unless students are on campus. Notre Dame, Arkansas’ scheduled September 12 football opponent, has taken that position as well.
Monday Notre Dame officially announced that there will be an on-campus fall semester at the school. Even though there was no mention of athletics in a letter released to the campus community by university president Rev. John I. Jenkins, the announcement does open the door for the possibility of the Arkansas-Notre Dame game to be played.
The school will open campus on August 10 for classes and wrap the fall semester up by the Thanksgiving break in anticipation of a possible spike in Coronavirus cases in the late fall and winter. Other schools, including South Carolina, have announced similar plans. Classes ending Thanksgiving weekend fits into the typical college football regular season schedule.
What is not clear at this point is whether student athletes at Notre Dame will be able to assemble on campus earlier than the August 10 date. SEC schools have a plan to bring student athletes back to campus in June with a period of strength and conditioning followed by preseason workouts starting in July. Trying to get prepared for a football season opener in a little over three weeks would seem to be extremely difficult.
“Bringing our students back is, in effect, assembling a small city of people from many parts of the nation and the world, who may bring with them pathogens to which they have been exposed. We recognize the challenge, but we believe it is one we can meet,” Father Jenkins wrote.
Notre Dame’s reopening plan has been in the works for a while according to the announcement by the school. It goes on to indicate that, “the plan, conceived for students, faculty and staff, will include comprehensive testing for COVID-19, contact tracing, quarantine and isolation protocols, social distancing and mask requirements, and enhanced cleaning of all campus spaces. As part of its planning, the University has identified facilities to isolate students who test positive and quarantine students who have been in close contact. Testing, contact tracing and the quarantine/isolation protocols will continue throughout the semester and as long as necessary. The University is developing signage and other communications tools to remind the campus community of health expectations and best practices.”
It looks like SEC member institutions will decide on Friday if they are going to allow student athletes to return to campus on June 1 and participate in voluntary workouts. This will come two days after a scheduled vote by the NCAA to essentially allow the same thing.
In a story posted by 247 Sports national reporter Brandon Marcello, Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby is quoted as saying, “If I were going to handicap it I would say we are more likely (to allow student athletes to return to campus) later in the month of June than we are on June 1, but I could be wrong on that.”
A comprehensive plan for a return to football for all NCAA FBS schools has yet to be articulated and getting all conferences on the same page might prove to be difficult. But as the summer months begin it appears that the pieces are slowly starting to fall into place.