KNOXVILLE – The Southeastern Conference will make its first move back toward the playing fields when it allows the resumption of voluntary in-person athletic activities on June 8 on campuses.
Tennessee will be lockstep with this first step, which was approved via vote of the schools on Friday.
“We’ll continue to follow the guidance from medical experts and health officials as we navigate the coming weeks,” UT athletic director Phillip Fulmer said in a prepared statement. “Our staff and student-athletes should be prepared for a ‘new normal’ as we’ll be implementing changes to how everyone accesses and uses our facilities. We plan to be extremely diligent in maintaining a healthy environment for our student-athletes, coaches and support staff.”
During the coronavirus pandemic, the conference had suspended all athletic activities through May 31. The NCAA Division I Council voted on Wednesday to allow schools to reopen their facilities on June 1 for football and men’s and women’s basketball players to return to campus and engage in voluntary workouts. The expectation for schools will be complying with state and local regulations and prioritizing the student-athletes’ health and safety.
On Friday, the council extended the opening to include all sports.
Per an SEC release on Friday, NCAA regulations permit only strength and conditioning personnel to supervise on-campus athletic activities during June in football and both basketball sports.
“At this time, we are preparing to begin the fall sports season as currently scheduled,” SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey said in a prepared statement, “and this limited resumption of voluntary activities on June 8 is an important initial step in that process.”
The SEC was believed to be considering either June 1 or June 15 for a return and split the difference. Sankey said that recommendations by the league’s task force provided “key guidance” in determining the date.
The recommendations include:
-A three-stage screening that involves screening before student-athletes arrive on campus, 72 hours before entering a facility and on a daily basis after activities resume.
-Testing of symptomatic athletes and anyone symptomatic associated with the activities.
-Immediate isolation of anyone under investigation or diagnosed with COVID-19, followed by contact tracing.
-A transition period allowing athletes to gradually adapt to training.
Fulmer said that members of UT’s football program will be the first to arrive back and screening will be conducted on athletes in advance of the return date.
Said Sankey: “Thanks to the blueprint established by our task force and the dedicated efforts of our universities and their athletics programs, we will be able to provide our student-athletes with far better health and wellness education, medical and psychological care and supervision than they would otherwise receive on their own.”