PROVO — College football is (officially) coming back.
At least, if we’re talking about practice.
The NCAA’s Division I council announced Wednesday the approval of a model for a modified preseason that will allow teams a six-week runway to the 2020 season, which begins for most schools on Saturday, Sept. 5.
The model, proposed by the Football Oversight Committee and approved Monday during NCAA meetings held virtually, allows teams to begin phasing in required participation of up to eight hours per week for weight training, conditioning and film review beginning July 13.
The extra practice time comes after a lost spring football season due to the coronavirus pandemic, which shuttered most athletic departments and sent the majority of college students home prior to the end of winter and spring semesters, nationwide.
“Given the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic across the country, we believe this model provides institutions and their student-athletes flexibility to prepare for the upcoming season,” said West Virginia athletic director Shane Lyons, who chairs the Football Oversight Committee.
The Division I Council covers every football-playing, four-year university in Utah, from BYU, Utah and Utah State to FCS Weber State and Southern Utah and newly promoted Dixie State. All procedures and protocols are subject to local and state guidelines for health and safety, as well as specific implementation from university and athletic department leaders. But NCAA protocols are a minimum standard for all member schools.
"We are encouraged by the NCAA Division I Council’s announcements today approving summer athletics activities and preseason practice for the upcoming 2020-21 athletic season," BYU athletic director Tom Holmoe said in a statement. "As we did previously with the return to campus for voluntary workouts, we are developing plans for our student-athletes to begin countable athletically related activities this summer as outlined by the NCAA.
"We'll continue to work with university leaders and government officials to monitor the COVID-19 situation closely as we make preparations for the coming season."
On July 24, schools can require up to 20 hours per week from their student-athletes, including up to eight hours for weights and conditioning; six hours for walk-throughs, which may included the use of a football; and up to six hours per week for team meetings, such as film review, position meetings, and one-on-one consultations.
Teams will also be required to give student-athletes at least two days off during the 14-day acclimatization period.
Preseason practices, or training camps, could begin as early as Aug. 7, for teams who will open the season Sept. 5. It is anticipated that the date could be adjusted proportionately for teams whose seasons begin early, such as BYU and Utah, which are scheduled to open the season Thursday, Sept. 3 at Rice-Eccles Stadium.
“The Football Oversight Committee worked hard to create a model that balances the proper precautions due to the COVID-19 pandemic with the need for a lengthened acclimatization period to safely return to play,” said Penn athletic director Grace Calhoun, who chairs the NCAA Division I Council. “The council members believe approving this model is a positive step forward for the sport.”
These regulations apply for mandatory activities; most schools have already begun a phased plan of bringing back student-athletes for voluntary workouts. For example, BYU began allowing fall sport athletes in women’s soccer, women’s volleyball, men’s and women’s cross country and gymnastics to return on June 15, or 15 days after football and men’s and women’s basketball.
All other student-athletes at the university are anticipated to resume voluntary activities beginning June 22.
Among the University of Utah’s safety protocols for the phased reopening for facilities are mandatory daily temperature checks, wristbands and face coverings; escorting all student-athletes to and from training facilities; and clearance to work out from respective coaching and medical staffs.
Also Wednesday, the committee approved a plan for mandatory summer activities for men’s and women’s basketball players.
"The path is now understood for what an on-time start to the football season will look like and some definition around summer access for football and men’s and women’s basketball," University of Utah athletic director Mark Harlan said in a prepared statement. "This is an important step and an exciting development for our student-athletes and coaches. We have our first group beginning voluntary workouts this week, with more on track to join them the next two weeks in Phase I.
"It's a positive step and we will continue to work diligently to provide the safest environment possible for our student-athletes."
Student-athletes in those sports will only be allowed voluntary activities of no more than eight hours per week through July 19. Beginning July 20, teams may require summer athletic activities of up to eight weeks or until the school’s first day of classes or Sept. 15 — whichever timeline is earlier, according to the NCAA’s news release. Virtual, nonphysical activities can be conducted in their stead, but the combination of virtual and in-person activities should not exceed eight hours per week, the council said.
“The council worked to balance the desire to get student-athletes training again with the need to repopulate our campuses and athletics facilities gradually and safely, within all campus, local and state mandates,” Calhoun said in a statement. “Student-athlete health and safety should remain a top priority.”
The NCAA council also discussed a temporary waiver to allow other fall sports athletes, such as men’s and women’s soccer and women’s volleyball, to begin required in-person activities beginning July 15. A final decision has been deferred until a later date, however.
The council also tabled a final decision from the Name, Image and Likeness Legislative Solutions Group regarding athlete compensation for those rights. They’ll consider that legislation during the 2020-21 legislative cycle, according to a news release.
Various groups and athletes will present proposals to the NCAA through the summer, until the council’s deadline for proposals set for Nov. 1.
In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, the NCAA voted to waive several requirements for the upcoming 2020-21 academic year. That includes requiring each Division I multi-sport conference to meet minimum requirements for regular-season conference games and competitions.