NCAA allows resumption of voluntary team activities in Division I football and basketball

Dan Wolken and Steve Berkowitz
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The NCAA Division I Council on Wednesday voted to allow athletes in football, men’s basketball and women’s basketball to resume voluntary on-campus workouts, beginning June 1.

The move lifts a prohibition that has been in place since March, when the coronavirus pandemic resulted in a variety of actions shuttering college sports, including the cancellation of the NCAA basketball tournaments.

The status of voluntary on-campus activities in other sports will be determined through email votes that will be taken over the remainder of this week.

In other actions announced by the association, the Council voted to temporarily waive several rules related to membership and scheduling requirements because of the pandemic.

►The minimum football-game-attendance requirement for Football Bowl Subdivision schools will be set aside for two years. Normally, once every two years on a rolling basis, FBS schools must average at least 15,000 in "actual or paid" attendance for all home football games. This will help schools that may have to play games without fans or with limited attendance or where attendance might be affected by the pandemic.

►FBS schools will not be required to play 60% of their games against FBS schools or play five home games against FBS teams this season. This will assist if schools need to play shortened seasons or if they need to re-arrange their schedules.

►In a variety of sports, including the fall sports of soccer, women's volleyball and field hockey, Division I schools will not be required to play the usual percentages of their schedules against other Division I schools. This will enable schools to limit travel and those costs by playing more games in their local regions.

►Minimums related to the number of scholarships and/or the amount of scholarship money that FBS schools must award were waived for a period of three years. This will help athletics programs facing financial problems, but gender-equity requirements and NCAA rules that can limit schools' ability to cancel or not renew scholarships will remain in effect.

Some schools had been targeting a June 1 resumption date for on-campus activities, even before Wednesday’s vote, and other schools even had been making preparations in anticipation of this.

For example, two weeks ago, Iowa State began what it termed a pilot plan under which it allowed a limited number of athletes to begin coming to its sports medicine clinic for injury rehabilitation.

While the NCAA’s prohibition of on-campus team activities had been in place, most conferences had adopted similar, or even more restrictive, rules concerning what athletes were allowed to do. Many of those rules were set to be re-visited no later than May 31 or June 1.

But all of this will continue to be guided by government restrictions that have varied not only from state to state, but even within states. For example, in Virginia, certain activities are being allowed in the state except in counties that surround the Washington area, where the number of coronavirus cases has not subsided enough for local officials in those areas.

This means that some Division I teams will be able to get started with team activities while others will not. And if developments on Wednesday are any indication, schools will taking a wide array of different approaches.

Florida State had close to 40 football players and 20 football staff members tested for the coronavirus at FSU’s student-health center in anticipation of resuming activities in June, the Tallahassee Democrat reported. Many of the players returned to campus on May 15, but have not been allowed to make use of the facilities.

At Ohio State, the Columbus Dispatch reported the university reopened the Woody Hayes Athletic Center earlier this week for limited use by about two dozen members of its football staff. Athletic director Gene Smith confirmed before the vote that the school plans to allow players to use athletic facilities on campus for individual or voluntary workouts on June 8.

Players will submit to screenings that include temperature checks and symptom assessments. Smith said they will not be tested for COVID-19.

“It hasn’t been a directive that we have to do that, so we’ll wait for our medical experts to give us some guidance on that,” Smith said, when asked about the prospect of testing.

Contributing: Wayne McGahee III of the Tallahassee Democrat, Joey Kaufman of The Columbus Dispatch

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