SAN ANTONIO – While a return to college football remains uncertain amid the coronavirus pandemic, there are signs of progress.
The NCAA voted Wednesday to allow football, and men’s and women’s basketball teams, to return to campuses for voluntary activities starting June 1.
Texas State head football coach Jake Spavital told KSAT-12 on Monday that June 1 had been targeted during the planning stages for student-athletes to return to campus.
“We’ve all agreed that we’re going to start these three phases of re-socialization where we can start voluntary workouts in June of 10 groups or less,” said Spavital. “Then we get to July. There’s going to be 50 people or less and then when we get to July 27, we’ve got a six-week return to play protocol so we can start on Sept. 5.”
Spoke with #TXST head coach @JakeSpavital Monday for wide-ranging interview.— RJ Marquez (@KSATRJ) May 21, 2020
Coach Spavital breaks down return to football timeline starting June 1.
July 27 is 6-week return to play protocol for season opener Sept. 5 @TXSTATEFOOTBALL @TxStateAlumni @TxStateBobcats #KSATsports pic.twitter.com/ICbzJweqdk
Spavital said that universities in the Sunbelt Conference have an understanding that their return to campus protocols may be different based on federal and state health guidelines.
Texas’ timeline is different than Louisiana’s and other states with Sunbelt schools. Spavital said he has contingency plans for a 4-or 5-week return to play protocol.
There are also contingency plans to start the season in mid-October or possibly eliminate non-conference games.
“When this hit, every single conference put together a proposal and they’re all very similar,” said Spavital. “We just have to be aware of where we are, and if we’re flattening the curve and doing everything right.”
The most important factor in any return to campus will be the health and safety of the student-athletes, coaches and staff.
#TXST HC @JakeSpavital discusses what COVID-19 testing protocols are currently in place for student-athletes returning campus. 'We're very cautious and following guidelines, making sure we're running a clean and safe environment.' @TXSTATEFOOTBALL @TxStateBobcats #KSATsports pic.twitter.com/QD6uvxp8Ww— RJ Marquez (@KSATRJ) May 21, 2020
Spavital said discussions about player testing and safety protocols at each university’s facilities are taking place and constantly evolving.
“There are discussions about when you walk into the building, they are going to have temperature checks,” said Spavital. “Then you’ll have symptom checks with questions.”
The Texas State head coach said the university’s current sanitation protocols with gyms and weight rooms mirror the state’s guidelines, which went into effect Monday.
Individual testing is a large part of the discussion among coaches and conference officials, and what would happen if a player at a university were to become infected with COVID-19.
“They’ve talked about how everybody will have to do a COVID-19 test weekly if we’re going to start playing in front of fans. We don’t know the rules yet or the guidelines if someone does contract the virus,” said Spavital.
“There’s a lot of baby steps. We’re very cautious and making sure that we’re doing everything right and following the guidelines and making sure that we’re running a clean and safe environment,” said Spavital.
When it comes to fans in the stands, Spavital said those discussions have centered around a phasing plan for spectators.
One of the sidebar elements of the pandemic has been the effects on recruiting.
High school players headed into their senior years are being recruited virtually. In-person visits and camps have been temporarily suspended. The NCAA’s recruiting dead period could extend through the summer.
“I feel bad right now for the seniors. You worked so hard your entire life to get to this moment,” said Spavital. “Hopefully the NCAA is going to make some blanket waivers where we can be able to go out and see kids, get them on our campus and make sure that these kids at least get a fair evaluation.”
It’s an unprecedented time across the college football landscape. The second-year head coach of the Bobcats describes it as a “new normal,” and said he’s proud of the way his staff and players have adjusted and reacted to the changes.
“I feel great about our coaching staff. When you come to a time of crisis like we’re in right now, you have to be great communicators and teachers,” said Spavital. “I think we’ve got a really good plan in place for these kids moving forward still focusing on the health and safety of our student athletes.”