HUNTINGTON — All in the college football world have Wednesday circled as the most important day of the year in terms of the future of their 2020 season.
According to a Sports Illustrated report, the NCAA Division I council will meet to discuss lifting a nationwide moratorium for on-campus summer activities on Wednesday.
The moratorium was put in place in March as COVID-19 threatened public safety, but that moratorium expires at the end of May, leaving officials with an important decision this week.
That decision could open a pathway for college football players to return to campuses nationwide for voluntary summer workouts in anticipation for the 2020 season.
Such workouts would only be permitted for areas who are in accordance with the NCAA’s “Core Principles of Resocialization of Collegiate Sport” which places an emphasis on the state and local government’s plan implementation, as well.
Marshall athletic director Mike Hamrick confirmed that all levels of his administration and athletics staff have been in discussions on taking proper steps to be prepared, in case the NCAA ends its moratorium.
Hamrick reiterated that, should the moratorium end, players would be allowed to return on a voluntary basis in order to use Marshall’s facilities and work with Marshall’s strength and conditioning coaches in preparation for a potential season.
The strength and conditioning staff would not only be responsible for overseeing workouts for players, but also for compliance to guidelines set forth for facilities in accordance with COVID-19 safety precautions.
Marshall’s coaching staff would still not be allowed to have contact with players, according to Hamrick.
“If they say we can bring them back on a voluntary basis, we have a contingency to start that process,” Hamrick said. “If not (approved), we will continue to operate as we have been (since March).”
Hamrick said the contingency plan in place is complicated and features several different levels, which is what makes the planning process vital for success, should the go-ahead be given.
The Marshall athletic director said doctors, sports medicine personnel, university safety personnel, the NCAA, state medical personnel and many other groups have all collaborated to give Marshall the most comprehensive information for its plan.
“We have a lot of people involved and there’s a lot of moving parts, but we feel very comfortable that we’ve covered every aspect of that,” Hamrick said. “We are not, at any time, going to put the safety, heath and welfare of our student-athletes at risk.”
Discussions involving Marshall’s athletics staff have come by way of virtual meetings in recent weeks, which were put together to discuss several items, including protocol for voluntary player workouts and safety measures that must be taken for the workouts to begin.
Scott Morehouse, Marshall’s associate athletic director of game operations and facilities, said that Marshall University is prepared to move forward with allowing football players on campus, should the vote allow it.
“It all depends on if states have opened up and what phase they are in,” Morehouse said. “Some states won’t be able to, but right now, West Virginia, we would be far enough along in our phases that we’d be able to start those.”
Morehouse confirmed that, by university rules
Dr. John Jasko, the head team physician for Marshall athletics, said the state’s diligence in producing a plan quickly enabled the state to get ahead of COVID-19 to keep the numbers low, which has enabled the state to restart the use of such facilities, albeit in a lower-scale model to reduce risk.
One difficult aspect to the equation is that, upon approval, Marshall’s football players wishing to return for workouts would do so from many different areas — some with higher risk factors than others — which means there have to be several plans outlined for medical personnel to ensure safety.
One of the key aspects of the “Core Principles of Resocialization of Collegiate Sports” involved factors such as testing, social distancing and isolation to reduce risk.
Jasko said questions are being asked such as where players are coming from and data being collected on what the prevalence is of COVID-19 within those areas to help forge together plans for when and if players return to Huntington.
Morehouse confirmed that players returning would have to undergo testing and a mandatory self-quarantine period upon arrival back to make sure they are not symptomatic, but the specifics of those plans will remain internal until the NCAA’s ruling on Wednesday.
“We are doing everything behind the scenes we can do, but we have to get the stamp of approval from the NCAA,” Jasko said.
While the NCAA institutions await approval for a potential return, West Virginia has implemented measures at the state level to also accommodate a return.
On Thursday, West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice released guidelines for fitness center, gymnasiums and recreation centers to reopen, starting Monday (May 18).
It is part of the state’s plan to reopen, titled “West Virginia Strong — The Comeback.”