Southern athletic director Roman Banks speaks to fans about the women's basketball's team's upcoming NCAA tournament game at Mississippi State in this undated file photo from March 2019.

Plans for Power 5 schools to welcome athletes back on campus shifted into high gear last week. LSU, for example, announced plans to welcome its football players back on June 8 after nearly a three-month shutdown because of the novel coronavirus pandemic.

Southern, like other SWAC schools, remains cautiously in neutral, according to SU director of athletics Roman Banks, who said the earliest date for the Jaguars to return could be mid-July — or later. Banks also believes conferences like the SWAC could delay the start of its 2020 football season until October or perhaps even the spring, hoping for a COVID-19 vaccine or treatments to emerge.

“The way you see Power 5 schools and LSU handle this is one thing … you’ll see that we do will be much different,” Banks said. “Things are still in the talking stages, but the I can’t see our athletes coming back until the middle of July and that could be pushed back. We don’t have the resources to house our students off campus and then give them a stipend of $1,000 a month for meals.

“Bringing our student-athletes back will most likely depend on when we can open the campus back up for housing and meal prep. The best thing for us may be if some sort of vaccine or treatment to lessen the risks is available. The well-being of our student-athletes is our top priority and there are still things we need to do to prepare for that.”

Banks said some members of SU’s athletic department staff should return to campus after Gov. John Bel Edwards’ Phase 2 of Louisiana’s reopening set for June 5 begins. Assistant athletic directors, academic counselors and some coaches involved with fall sports will be part of the first wave of athletic department employees to return.

Just as he noted a month ago, Banks said SU and the SWAC are considering multiple scenarios for how the 2020-21 athletic year will play out. Banks said he speaks with SU president Ray Belton daily. He concedes that the longer SU’s athletes are away from campus, the tougher it will be to start the football season on Sept. 5 vs. Tennessee State in Detroit. The Jags’ other fall sports, soccer and volleyball, have contests scheduled in August.

“This is a very fluid situation that changes every day for smaller schools like us,” Banks said. “Because our level of resources is not like those the bigger schools have, it makes it harder for us to make decisions quickly. We have to make sure we have the resources we need.

"I could still see a value in a spring football season, if that extra time would make the season safer. If our schools opt to go online for the fall, like they did in the spring and this summer, that would change things a great deal.”

As the timetable for the return of SU’s athletes evolves, so will planning for how practices and workouts will be able once athletes do return. Banks said plans to screen athletes and take temperatures will be in place, along with schedules for how the Jaguars’ weight room and other facilities will be utilized.

“We know what protocol needs to be in place and we know that a means to sterilize facilities/equipment needs to be in place,” Banks said. “Paying for all of this is the challenge. Schools like us get no TV money like the Power 5 schools do. 

“The pageantry … the experience … with our bands and dancers also is a big part of what makes our games what they are. The fact that a significant number of supporters and season-book holders fall in the at-risk group, according to the CDC, is something else to consider.”

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