NCAA group to study when football could return

Aerial photos of Sanford Stadium during the Georgia vs Tennessee football game, Sept. 29, 2018. (UGA Sports Communications.)

Credit: Peter Frey

Credit: Peter Frey

Aerial photos of Sanford Stadium during the Georgia vs Tennessee football game, Sept. 29, 2018. (UGA Sports Communications.)

The NCAA has formed a committee to study the logistics of a return for fall sports -- namely, football.

Named the “COVID-19 Playing and Practice Seasons Working Group,” the committee’s charge is “to assist the membership with evaluating medical, operational, and potential rules challenges for upcoming seasons of training and competition.”

Its primary focus is football.

“This cross-functional, representative group will be responsible for identifying, examining and recommending advice, solutions and/or direction to the relevant governance committees to respond to playing and practice issues of a national scope arising from the COVID-19 pandemic,” the NCAA said in a statement posted to its website Friday. “To begin its work, the group will primarily focus on the sport of football, which will include direct communication with the NCAA Division I Football Oversight Committee and the NCAA Divisions II and III Football Committees, as well as other constituent and governance groups. Emerging strategies likely will be applicable to all fall sports impacted by current events.”

Georgia athletic director Greg McGarity believes the formation of the committee is a positive first step toward possibly resuming football in the fall.

“It’s progress toward answering the question everybody wants to know,” he said, meaning if and when football might be allowed to start. “This will be an important group that will be tasked with determining what’s safe in that regard.”

Spring football practices were cancelled along with the other sports last month. The Bulldogs would have conducted their 11th of the 15 spring practices allowed FBS teams on Thursday. G-Day, which was set for April 18, also has been canceled. Practices of any kind in any sport have been banned through May 31 by the SEC.

Traditionally, preseason football practices begin the first of August, or one month before the first game of the season. Georgia is scheduled to open the season against Virginia on Sept. 7 in the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta.

Most of the Bulldogs’ incoming freshmen and returning football lettermen usually enroll for summer semester in June. Once enrolled, they can participate in off-season strength and conditioning programs as well as voluntary works.

“I certainly think that our players are young, they’re very resilient, they can get ready in a quick turnaround,” Georgia coach Kirby Smart said in a Facebook live interview with ESPN this week.

“A lot of us as coaches got to be smart about what that turnaround may be. Whether that’s July 13, whether that’s in August, there’s a lot of football seasons been played where guys didn’t get time leading in to prepare maybe as much as they have. As long as it’s equal then we’re all going to be on the same footing. We’ve got to get by with what they give us.”

The NCAA canceled all its spring sports competitions and championships in mid-March in response to the approaching coronavirus pandemic. As federal and local governments continue to deal with and monitor the still-growing deadly effects of the resulting COVID-19 disease the virus produces, the prospect of it delaying or canceling fall sporting events increasingly has become a point of discussion.

Any and all decisions to that end will be determined by government agencies on the recommendation of medical experts monitoring the spread of the virus. But the NCAA wants to get ahead of such decisions by determining exactly how much time teams might need to resume competition.

“Assuming safety principles are in place, there are many ‘what if’ scenarios that this group will assess, including possible modifications of conditioning and training in the summer and pre-season,” the NCAA said.

The COVID-19 committee consists of 15 voting members (including one from each FBS conference, five council members, nine non-council members and one head coach representative from the American Football Coaches Association Board of Trustees) and one football representative from the Division I Student-Athlete Advisory Committee. There are four non-voting members.

Alabama AD Greg Byrne is representing the SEC. West Virginia athletic director Shane Lyons is chairing the committee.

Several high-profile coaches and sports media personalities have weighed in on whether football will start as scheduled this fall or not. McGarity won't.

“All these guys who are predicting, all they’re doing is confusing people,” he said. “We just prefer to be good listeners and, until it’s time to return, we’re going to be part of the solution.”