SportsPulse: Mackenzie Salmon connected with Yale’s Dr. Sten Vermund, who specializes in the field of infectious diseases, to get his thoughts on the conferences that are still attempting to play college football in the fall. He did not hold back.
For college football players at 54 schools across the Football Bowl Subdivision, this will be a semester like no other — a fall without the familiar rhythm of football season.
But that doesn’t mean they’ll be leaving campus, or away from football entirely.
Though their seasons have been scrapped due to concerns about COVID-19, football players across the Big Ten, Pac-12, MAC and Mountain West are still living on campus, still attending practices or workouts, and still benefiting from the usual resources that accompany a football scholarship, including access to academic tutoring and athletic training services.
Those arrangements will continue through the fall after the NCAA’s Division I Council voted Wednesday to permit football programs to spend up to 12 hours per week on organized walk-throughs, meetings and strength and conditioning sessions in the absence of a season.
Oregon coach Mario Cristobal and his team may not be playing this fall, but he says players have an “opportunity to take more time to work on their craft.” (Photo: Harry How, Getty Images)
While some coaches are frustrated that they will have less time to spend with players than their in-season counterparts, others are trying to view this fall as an opportunity.
“We’ve already begun our offseason conditioning program,” Michigan State coach Mel Tucker told reporters last week. “We’re treating this time like it’s January. We’re building a broad base of strength and conditioning that will allow us to be prepared for whatever happens next.”
The COVID-19 pandemic has left sports in limbo at all levels, but it has created a particularly fractured situation in the FBS, the top tier of college football. As some universities move to online-only academic arrangements, presidents and conference officials are still weighing whether it’s safe or feasible to play.
Two of the Power Five conferences, the Big Ten and Pac-12, announced last week that their schools will not play football this fall, joining teams in the MAC, the Mountain West and four others. The remaining 76 schools in the FBS are so far pushing ahead.
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One of the most popular arguments in favor of playing college football has been that athletes will be safer during the season because they’ll be on campus. Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence and Sen. Ben Sasse, R-Neb., are among those who claimed that canceling the season would prompt players to be sent home, where they could more easily be exposed to COVID-19.
“Young men will be pushed away from universities that are uniquely positioned to provide them with testing and health care,” Sasse wrote in a letter last week.
Over the past week, however, the opposite has proven true.
Seven school and conference spokespeople surveyed by USA TODAY Sports said their football athletes have largely chosen to remain on campus following the postponement of the season. Many have continued to work out or practice while waiting for additional guidance from the NCAA.
“Nothing has changed,” Arizona State spokesperson Mark Brand wrote in an email.
That is true even at schools like Michigan State, which on Tuesday said it would switch to online-only academic instruction but allow athletes to remain on campus if they wish.
Athletic departments have also committed to offering the same support services for athletes that they would have during a normal season. Players are still able to get treatment from an athletic trainer, or receive academic help. They also have continued access to mental health counseling — and, in most cases, are still following the same COVID-19 protocols that were in place prior to last week’s announcements.
“I don’t know that there’s ever a time in the history of modern sports where a young generation like this has had the opportunity to take more time to work on their craft,” Oregon coach Mario Cristobal told reporters last week. “To legitimately take a deeper dive into the academic side of things and advance themselves academically, make more progress towards their diploma.”
From a football standpoint, the Division I Council’s decision ensures that teams will be able to spend up to 12 hours per week on mandatory walk-throughs, team meetings and organized workouts. The NCAA’s typical cap for “athletically related activities” during the season is 20 hours per week.
Some coaches believe 12 hours is not enough, and that it will lead to competitive balance issues relative to schools in conferences that are going ahead with football.
“That makes no sense that other teams are going to be having a season, and we’re only going to get to work with our guys for 12 hours,” Penn State coach James Franklin said on a conference call Wednesday morning.
Contact Tom Schad at [email protected] or on Twitter @Tom_Schad.