With the state of Texas continuing to reopen, the Texas Longhorns coaching staff was back on the Forty Acres on Monday for the first time since the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic forced the cancelation of sports and widespread lockdowns.
According to Anwar Richardson of Orangebloods, the coaches will also spend Wednesday, and Friday in the office while taking precautions like social distancing and mask wearing.
After spring football was canceled with the rest of sports in the United States, the Texas coaches have been holding virtual staff meetings and virtual meetings with players that will likely continue for several more weeks, though finals temporary halted player meetings that will resume on Wednesday.
Players still aren’t allowed back on campus and into the weight rooms and the recruiting dead period halting official and unofficial visits will continue through the end of June. However, with Texas governor Greg Abbott allowing gyms to reopen on Monday, Texas head coach Tom Herman is looking ahead to June 1st as a key date on the college football calendar.
“You know all the Power Five commissioners and conferences got together in late March and agreed on a bunch of different stipulations in terms of what we can and can’t do with our players, but that was set through May 31. Well, we’re getting pretty close to May 31,” Herman told the Dallas Morning News.
Because Texas is further along in the reopening process than other states with large coronavirus outbreaks, officials are working to navigate what will likely become staggered return dates based on local, state, and conference regulations. But there are still a lot of questions.
“Our state just opened gyms, so does that mean we can open the weight room doors on June 1 for our players even though it’s discretionary or because some other state in our conference cannot? Are we bound by the lowest common denominator? Those decisions are being made well above my head by ADs and university presidents and commissioners and, first and foremost, government health officials telling us what is acceptable and appropriate and what isn’t.”
On Monday, Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby indicated that the conference’s athletic directors have agreed on a uniform return date for players targeting the middle of June, pending an official vote and continuing developments in the pandemic. The Mountain West commissioner believes that there won’t be equitable solutions.
Once players return to campus, Herman expects a six-week preparation period prior to the season — a two-week acclimation period for medical and conditioning assessments, and then the standard four weeks for training camp. So mid-July is the latest date that coaches believe they can start those six weeks to prepare for the season without pushing back the season’s start date.
It looks like Big 12 programs may have an extra month or so, but as recently as last week, Oklahoma head coach Lincoln Riley believed in a more cautious approach.
“In my opinion, we need to bring them in as late as we possibly can,” Riley said. “Every day early that we bring them in is a day we could have gotten better. It’s a day we could have learned more about the virus. It’s a day maybe PPE gets better. It’s a day closer to the vaccine. It’s a day that our testing equipment and testing capabilities get better, and it’s not just not worth it. So we’ve gotta be patient. We get one shot at this and we’ve gotta do it right.”
As schools prepare for players to return, they’re getting ready for a new normal outlined by Sports Illustrated.
Coaches and staff members in masks and gloves. Temperature tests at the front door. Hand sanitizing stations around every corner. Weight room squat racks 20 feet apart. Stairwells with one-way movement, a set for going up and another for going down. Elevators with a maximum occupancy of two. Nutrition stations offering only packaged snacks.
At least in the beginning, some schools won’t allow access to showers. There will be no passing a football back and forth either. No sharing towels or water bottles. No hugging, no high-fiving and no weight-training exercises that require assistance from a spotter. “It will be the new norm,” says Tory Lindley, president of the National Athletic Trainers’ Association and an associate athletic director at Northwestern. “It will be the best we can do. We’re all hoping to put forward the safest environment for our student-athletes.”
For college sports programs, especially in states that are reopening gyms, the safest environment is the one that they can control on campus, so it may only be a matter of weeks before Longhorns football players can rejoin the coaches in Austin.