HUNTINGTON — The NCAA Division I Council meets Wednesday to decide whether to end a moratorium banning on-campus events, which is set to expire on May 31.
Should the Council vote to end the moratorium, it opens up the possibility for some states whose COVID-19 numbers are stabilized — such as West Virginia — to allow sports to work their way into the daily fabric of life once again.
For football athletes, the end of the moratorium would enable a voluntary return to campus on June 1 for workouts with strength staffs in anticipation of fall practice for the 2020 season — no matter what form that season may come in.
The word “voluntary” is key in the equation because the workouts are not mandated. It would be a decision of the players, who still will not be able to work with members of the coaching staff — just strength staff personnel.
The decision to do so would take on a different meaning than in past years where athletes frequently enrolled in summer classes and stayed on campus for workouts to get ready for fall camp, which generally starts in August.
The 2020 year is unique and so, too, will be the life of all involved in collegiate athletics, including those at Marshall University. While the entities are quite different, professional sports can often offer a blueprint for changes that also work into the collegiate realm as well.
With all sports globally dealing with COVID-19, that intertwining of principles has never been more true than 2020 where safety measures take precedence over anything.
“We are not, at any time, going to put the safety, health and welfare of our student-athletes at risk,” Marshall Athletic Director Mike Hamrick said over the weekend.
In the professional realm, the NBA and MLB have looked at going to site-specific locations with teams almost being quarantined to becoming their own little communities with limited access to the outside world.
It begs the question: will the same happen in college sports?
The logistics around bringing 100-plus players together to work out in a safe environment is difficult enough, but the benefit that professional sports have over the collegiate side is there is no on-campus element for professional players.
Often times, football players live in on-campus or off-campus housing with other students at the university — not necessarily student-athletes, especially in the first couple of years on campus. Given the current situation and the safety measures involved, it is likely that players will become their own community, of sorts, to promote social distancing and ensure safety precautions that minimize risk.
Dr. John Jasko, Marshall University’s head team physician, said that everything is being looked at within those terms.
“That’s something we work out through housing with respect to on-campus and off-campus,” Jasko said. “That’s a plan that has been talked about, but it has not been solidified because there’s just so many things in the air.”
It is another multi-faceted effort within the framework of returning athletes to campus with everyone working together to find the right solution — no easy task. That involves Jasko and his team, Marshall director of football operations Mark Gale, the university’s housing authorities and the university’s safety directors, as well.
Housing is typically an after-thought in the process for student-athletes, but everything is magnified at this point. Even meals are getting a closer eye due to the safety ramifications involved. Typically team meals become bonding events and universities have moved to catered, buffet-style meals for post-practice to expedite the process while allowing everyone to be together to build chemistry.
With the safety risks involved in buffet-style meals, however, the likelihood is that individually-packaged/prepared meals and limited capacity will be a mandated measure, which means more change coming for the teams.
That doesn’t even begin to get into weight room techniques, which will require a capacity at 40 to 50 percent of state regulations and proper cleaning of equipment after each individual use. And it doesn’t touch on whether players will actually go to in-person classes or if they will be required to distance learn and continue to use online techniques or have all of their classes administered within Marshall’s Buck Harless Student-Athlete Program.
One of the main goals the NCAA has stated throughout its changes in legislation after COVID-19 is to find ways to maintain the student-athlete experience.
Each legislative measure changes the future of collegiate athletics, though. Football players are coached each day during preseason preparation about sudden change within a game.
In 2020, however, the biggest sudden change situations they face occur off the field of play.