Football attendance rules still undecided, NCAA Division I Council approves late-summer training schedule

Jason Born | The Red & BlackA Georgia facilities worker mows crisp lines into Dooley Field before the first home game of the 2019-2020 season.

On Wednesday, the NCAA Division I Council approved new recommendations outlining the transition from voluntary to required football workouts later this summer.

Until July 13, current guidelines will stay in effect. On-campus training will remain optional and be observed only by strength and conditioning personnel, coaches still can't know the details of their athletes' voluntary workouts and team meetings and practices are still banned.

From July 13-23, however, football coaches can require as much as eight hours of athletic activities each week, including conditioning and up to two hours of film review.

This preliminary period is set to preempt a more complete return over July 24-Aug. 6, which will feature up to 20 hours of mandatory training and meetings, whether as a team or one-on-one.

With football seasons expected to begin as early as Sept. 5, the DI council's plan is meant to allow up to 25 full-team practices before competitions resume in whatever form they may take.

The approved recommendations come nearly a month after UGA released its Plan for a Phased Return to Operations, a 225-page document outlining, among other things, the university's contingency plans surrounding fans' return to Sanford Stadium in the fall.

Updated on June 9, the document considered several methods of acclimating athletes to in-season workout levels, such as "mandatory yoga?"

Neither the NCAA nor the SEC has published spectator guidelines other than waiving the Football Bowl Subdivision's 15,000-person minimum attendance policy through 2022.

In its return plan, UGA floated three potential attendance protocols, ranging from games with no fans to games conducted in a world with relaxed social distancing restrictions, in which the main concern would be avoiding major "congregation elements" and "reducing touchpoints," like cash payments and ticket handling.

The most likely scenario is the university's second option, under which fans would watch the game, use bathrooms and grab concessions while maintaining a six-foot buffer. Floors would be lined with social distancing reminders and athletic facility employees would wear masks and gloves to interact with attendees.

As with the more optimistic option, hand-to-hand contact and bottlenecks would be avoided as much as possible.

The university's plan also includes updated capacity figures to include social distancing measures. Butts-Mehre Hall's 3,320 square-foot football locker room would be able to hold 29 athletes. Sanford Stadium's lockers, at 9,400 square feet, could manage 83 at once.

The document does not outline the number of socially distanced fans that Sanford, Stegeman Coliseum or Foley Field could seat.

While the schedule for late-summer workouts is set, the details of fall game days remain penciled-in at best. Without uniform guidelines handed down by the NCAA or SEC, competitive and operational decisions will be left to the university.

UGA said it plans to monitor public health regulations and make a decision about what competition will look like by July 17, a few days after mandatory workouts begin for the athletes readying to retake Dooley Field in less than three months.

Printed with permission from The Red & Black independent student media organization based in Athens, Georgia; redandblack.com/sports

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