FAYETTEVILLE – By vote of the 14 Southeastern Conference schools, guided by each’s member on the Conference’s Return to Activity and Medical Guidance Task Force, SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey announced Friday in Birmingham, Ala. that voluntary strength and conditioining for football and basketball players on their campuses can begin June 8.
Because of the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic ultimately closing all SEC campuses since mid March, all SEC spring sports and spring practices on campuses have been cancelled and and all strength and conditioning activities on campus have been announced suspended through May 31.
Friday’s announcement allows starting June 8 voluntary strength and conditioning programs for football and men’s and women’s basketball under strength and conditioning staff supervision but without the presence of football and basketball coaches.
Each school will implement the June 8 return to conditioning under its own and local and state health directives but within the general SEC scope.
“While each institution will make its own decisions in creating defined plans to safely return student-athletes to activity, it is essential to employ a collaborative approach that involves input from public health officials, coaches, sports medicine staff, sports performance personnel and student-athletes,” Sankey said. “Elements of the Task Force recommendations provided key guidance for determining the date of the return to activity.”
Directives to all 14 SEC programs include the following: A 3-stage screening process that involves screening before student-athletes arrive on campus, within 72 hours of entering athletics facilities and on a daily basis upon resumption of athletics activities
- Testing of symptomatic team members (including all student-athletes, coaches, team support and other appropriate individuals)
- Immediate isolation of team members who are under investigation or diagnosed with COVID-19 followed by contact tracing, following CDC and local public health guidelines
- A transition period that allows student-athletes to gradually adapt to full training and sport activity following a period of inactivity.”
- Social distancing is mandatory for all during the June conditioning.
Arkansas Athletic Director Hunter Yurachek has expressed hope that the Razorbacks, whose spring football practices never occurred, can on or around July 15 begin some football practice walkthroughs leading into the August preseason preparations for the Razorbacks’ season opener Sept. 5 against Nevada at Reynolds Razorback Stadium.
Friday’s SEC announcement made no reference to July.
Yurachek, football coach Sam Pittman, men’s basketball coach Eric Musselman and women’s basketball coach Mike Neighbors all deemed Friday’s announcement as a careful and needed plan to get their athletes back on campus to prepare for their coming seasons.
“As we resume on-campus activities, the continued health and well-being of our student-athletes will remain our top priority,” Yurachek said after praising Sankey and the Task Force. “I sincerely appreciate the efforts of our Department of Athletics staff and numerous medical professionals across our state, who worked collaboratively to develop a detailed plan in accordance with University, SEC, NCAA and Arkansas Department of Health directives. We are well prepared and look forward to confidently welcoming back many of our student-athletes in the coming weeks.”
Men’s and women’s cross country, women’s soccer and women’s volleyball all compete in the fall semester.
First-year coach Pittman stressed the supervised strength and program under controlled conditions should be safer for his athletes than working out at various gyms in their hometowns.
“The most important part in all of this is the health and well-being of our student-athletes,” Pittman said. “We are confident in our plan to bring our guys back to campus where our resources are here to help them academically, emotionally and physically. For us as a new staff, we can’t wait to see them and continue to build our trust with one another.”Ditto Musselman starting his second Arkansas season.
“I think it will be great for our student-athletes to be back on campus and have the many services our support staff can give them in terms of academics, medical needs, physical conditioning and mental wellness,” Musselman said. “While we look forward to seeing our student-athletes back, we know this is still a serious time in this world-wide pandemic. We need to take things slow and we need to follow all the guidelines in order to ensure the health of everyone. That is the only way we can move forward.”
Neighbors also emphasized caution while being pleased.
“We understand it’s “more proceed with caution” for now rather than “GO!” Neighbors said. “We will strictly adhere to the guidelines and procedures put in place to keep us safe.
“Since day one, I’ve used Governor (Asa) Hutchinson, Commissioner Sankey, Chancellor Steinmetz, and Hunter Yurachek as my Mount Rushmore of information on how to proceed through these challenging times,” Neighbors said. “They have kept us well informed and have built confidence in us all that there is a great plan in place. So if they say we’re ready, we are ready.”