So this must be a little glimpse into how 1945 felt, waiting for news of some far-flung capital falling to overwhelming Allied forces.
In the case of collegiate sports, the capital isn’t some place like Berlin or Tokyo but Indianapolis, where the NCAA stockpiles its bureaucrats and rule books. And from there late Wednesday came the news that college sports’ largest governing body has voted to end the moratorium prohibiting on-campus activities effective June 1.
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For those hoping college sports will return in the fall, this is a small step but a momentous one. It is one of many steps that should lead to a college football season this fall and seasons for other college sports as well.
The ball in our corner of the college sports world now shifts primarily to the Southeastern Conference’s court. Athletic directors will reportedly hear from medical experts Thursday. Then they, like the men with their slide rules and ashtrays in mission control back in the Apollo moonshot days, will give SEC presidents and chancellors a go/no-go for launch recommendation. A vote by the SEC campus chiefs is expected to come Friday.
Using the NCAA’s decision as a guidepost, it is difficult to imagine the SEC will refuse to give the go-ahead for student-athletes to return to campus sometime between June 1-15. LSU strength and conditioning coach Tommy Moffitt told WNXX-FM on Wednesday morning he and his staff are planning for a June 1 reporting date, at least for incoming freshmen.
Speaking on Wednesday afternoon on WNXX, SEC spokesman Herb Vincent restated the conference’s goal of not only playing the 2020 college football season but getting it started as scheduled.
“The bottom line is our focus is on playing the football season as scheduled Labor Day weekend,” Vincent said. “If circumstances dictate we have to change, then we have to. But we remain optimistic.”
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Vincent even added to the optimistic vibe by saying the conference is still planning on hosting its annual SEC football media days, scheduled for July 13-16 in Atlanta, though he added there are plans for a pivot to a virtual media days if necessary. (Personally I’m not expecting the traditional on-site media days, but there is at least still time for hope.)
The NCAA vote extends to men’s and women’s basketball as well. Other sports like soccer and volleyball would start play much earlier in August but were not mentioned. It’s good news to LSU basketball coach Will Wade, but he was quick to caution Wednesday that hurdles remain for teams who want to start practicing and playing.
“Everyone’s not just going to show up June 1 and start training,” Wade said. “A lot of protocols have to be followed.”
Wade’s team, for example, is expected to have players from the New York metropolitan and Chicago areas, two hot spots for coronavirus — even hotter than Louisiana, in terms of total cases and deaths. He said those players may be required to self-quarantine for 14 days before they could start any activities. But even then, practices could be far different than usual.
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“They’ll undergo physicals when they get back,” Wade said. “It’s still too early to say when they get back how we can work them out.
"In the past, we worked out our point guards and bigs and wings together. That doesn’t make sense right now. If we work out our point guards together and one tests positive (for coronavirus), I’ve got to shut that group down and we can’t run a team. There’s lots of stuff to go through.”
But the hurdles are worth crossing, and not just because schools need to play their big-ticket sports, the games that generate virtually all of their revenue. The underplayed issue in all of this is what student-athletes are lacking and missing out on every day they are outside the bubble an athletic department can provide.
“There are kids struggling to eat at home,” Wade said. “Eating like they need to eat. It will help when we can have them being fed in our nutrition center. They can get better health care than they have at home, better mental health care.
“There are a lot of positives to getting them back as soon as possible, but it has to be done as safely as we can do it.”
Safety that college sports leaders believe they can achieve, as they have increasingly demonstrated. No one is yet talking definitively about playing this fall, much less how they could get fans in the stands.
But the signposts are encouraging.
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