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How each Power-5 conference is allowing student-athletes to return

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Since the NCAA announced they were allowing schools to reopen their athletic facilities on June 1, it’s up to the schools and conferences to decide what to do next.

NCAA Football: Big Ten Championship-Ohio State vs Wisconsin Thomas J. Russo-USA TODAY Sports

The NCAA Division I Council voted to allow schools to reopen their athletic facilities, allowing student-athletes from all sports to return to campus for voluntary workouts on June 1.

During the month of June, NCAA regulations permit strength and conditioning personnel only—no coaches allowedto supervise these workouts, which must be initiated by student-athletes.

The NCAA said they will not mandate or oversee a uniform start time for the return of college sports during the COVID-19 crisis, and will instead defer to university presidents and state officials on when, and how, athletes return to training.

In other words, the NCAA dropped a June 1 go-time, hung up and listened.

So, without a College Football commissioner, Power 5 conference commissioners and university presidents are tasked with determining how their respective programs will proceed. While some of the five conferences are passing the baton and taking the “let’s let the schools decide approach,” others are still undecided. Let’s take a look.

Big Ten

The Big Ten is not expected to make a league-wide mandate on student-athletes returning to campus, and instead will leave the decision up to individual schools, league sources told ESPN on Friday.

Before the NCAA okayed a June 1 start date, the conference had suspended all organized team activities through June 1.

Big Ten president Kevin Warren told CNBC earlier this month that he is not rushing to make a decision.

“I’m looking to be in a position in the next six to eight weeks to see if we will have sports in the fall,” Warren said. “But even bigger than sports in the fall is we’re collectively focusing on what we need to do to have school in the fall. If we don’t have school in the fall, we don’t have sports in the fall.”

Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith announced on Wednesday that the football, men’s basketball and women’s basketball student-athletes will be welcomed back on campus for voluntary workouts beginning June 8.

Illinois on Friday announced detailed plans for its student-athletes to return to campus for voluntary activities, with staggered arrivals beginning as early as June 3. Illinois athletic director Josh Whitman told reporters that other Big Ten schools are putting together similar plans.

More updates will likely come June 7, when the Big Ten powers that be will meet to discuss the fall sports season and other major topics.

SEC

The SEC opted for the league-wide route, announcing on Friday that voluntary in-person team activities for football, men’s basketball and women’s basketball may resume on campuses beginning June 8 under strict supervision and safety guidelines developed by each university. They were the first conference to do so. Until now, the SEC had suspended all athletic activities through May 31.

SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey said that the conference is preparing to begin the fall sports season as scheduled, and that a June 8 reopening is an important initial step to allow that to happen.

Similar to what Smith said on Wednesday, Sankey also believes that his conferences’ athletic programs will provide student athletes with better health and wellness education, medical and psychological care and supervision than they would otherwise receive while off campus.

Sure enough, shortly after the SEC’s announcement, Missouri athletic director Jim Sterk released a statement announcing that MU football and basketball athletes can return to their teams’ facilities on June 8 to begin workouts. I assume many SEC schools will begin to follow suit over the next few days.

ACC

Like the Big Ten, the ACC opted to allow universities to make their own decisions about when they want to welcome student-athletes back to campus.

On Thursday of last week (before the NCAA’s announcement) ACC Commissioner John Swofford told media that every school in his conference anticipates playing football and other fall sports this year.

“We are going into this year with the anticipation of playing at this point,” Swofford said. “All of our institutions are indicating they intend to open in various fashions as we go into the fall, but there’s a lot that can happen between now and then.”

He added that, even if some schools are unable to return because of their respective states’ laws, it will not prevent the others from playing.

Louisville became the first ACC school to announce a return to voluntary workouts and will start June 8.

Big 12

While we don’t have an official update yet on what the Big 12’s plan of action is for their student-athletes’ return, WVU president E. Gordon Gee said many dates have been thrown around amongst other Big 12 presidents.

“There is a debate among the Big 12 presidents on whether we do June 1 or we do June 15 or we do July 1,” Gee said. “We know this — if we are going to play football in the fall, which we are, the latest we could open up to our student-athletes could be about July 15. I would compromise and say we bring our athletes back around June 15. Shane Lyons (WVU athletic director) and his team will make that call.”

Gee also said both athletic directors and presidents among the Big 12 are all on the same page in terms of football returning this fall— each school is determined to play.

According to Burnt Orange Nation, Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby has also stated in recent interviews (before the NCAA’s announcement) that student-athletes could return to campus as soon as next month. Now the question remains, how will he enforce that?

Pac-12

Pac-12 presidents are expected to vote next week on a start date for on-campus voluntary workouts, according to Jon Wilner of The Mercury News, which will likely be mid-June.

The conferences’ leaders will decide whether to lift or extend the suspension of on-campus team activities that runs through the end of May.

“Every program wants as many players back as soon as possible, but whether the return unfolds on June 10, June 20 or June 30 is not a make-or-break issue for Pac-12 football,” Wilner writes.

He notes that the conference will likely allow schools to bring players back to campus for voluntary workouts next month in phases, and each phase will differ from school to school.

“We could see Utah, Colorado and the Arizona schools have more players on campus by June 20, for example, than the California schools,” Wilner writes.

No matter what the Pac-12 decides, the conference’s commissioner, Larry Scott, told CNN that, ideally, training camp for football would start in late July, which would allow for the regularly scheduled season to kick off.


It’s worth noting that, as conversations among the Power 5 conferences continue, there is a major possibility not all 65 programs will be able to start the football season on time based on their respective state laws and regulations.