Q&A with Greg McGarity as NCAA opens door for football’s return

Georgia athletic director Greg McGarity.    Curtis Compton/ccompton@ajc.com

Georgia athletic director Greg McGarity. Curtis Compton/ccompton@ajc.com

The NCAA Council on Wednesday voted to allow college athletes to return to campus June 1. Pete Thamel of Yahoo Sports, citing sources, was first to report that football players and men’s and women’s basketball players will be allowed to train at school facilities over the summer, pending the approval of their respective institutions and conferences.

SEC presidents are expected to vote on that matter in a conference call Friday. Approval appears to be a done deal.

» MORE: Tech, state schools could resume workouts

Georgia senior wide receiver Demetris Robertson was among players tweeting Wednesday that they would be returning to campus June 1.

UGA President Jere Morehead declined to discuss college sports’ return with the The Atlanta Journal-Constitution this week. However, Georgia Athletic Director Greg McGarity on Wednesday said the Bulldogs have been ramping up on a possible return “for a while.”

McGarity would not discuss specifics, other than to say that any return likely would come with many guidelines and restrictions.

“Strict adherence (of guidelines) and education for everyone associated with the program is going to be critical,” McGarity said. “Whenever we return, habits will have to change because our life has changed, thanks to the virus. We can’t ignore that and act like it’s business as usual. That probably won’t produce a good result.”

Athletes will have to be tested, then gather with their teammates in a quarantined lodging situation. Any personnel who work directly with the players also will have to be tested and subjected to quarantine.

» ALSO: High school workouts could return, too

That will be different than how summers usually work for Georgia football. Offseason strength-and-conditioning work and 7-on-7 work are considered voluntary workouts by the NCAA. Accordingly, upperclassmen often remain in personal, off-campus housing, and most underclassmen remain in general university housing.

Team quarantines will have to be part of the arrangement this summer. But that is not something UGA is unfamiliar with.

Members of the Georgia football team lodge in the Georgia Center for Continuing Education hotel on campus during preseason workouts each August. During that time, they are restricted from using their cars or leaving campus until the season starts.

Similar team-isolation practices likely will have to be in place all summer for athletes to be allowed to use school facilities for voluntary workouts.

“It’s got to be a lifestyle going forward,” McGarity said. “You can’t have a certain population of your athletes that feel like their immune. Should they infect someone who wasn’t sick, you can see what can happen. So, it has to be something that everyone accepts and everyone abides by. That is part of this new world. You can’t have any outliers. You can’t have anybody who thinks they’re more powerful than the virus, or we’ll be taking steps backward in a hurry.”

» MORE: UGA's Courson helping provide guidance

That was just one subject McGarity talked about Wednesday. Here are some others he was asked to weigh in on:

Q: Do you expect the SEC presidents to approve a June return for athletes Friday?

A: Basically they can do whatever they desire; I'm not privy to that conversation. … I would imagine there will be several items over the next few days that should provide some guidance moving forward.

Q: The SEC athletic directors met Wednesday. Did you guys vote on a return to campus?

A: There's been no official vote among the athletic directors. There's no point in athletic directors voting because it's a presidential vote. There's been some lively discussions on it, but no votes. I'm sure athletic directors are all in consultation with their presidents on what they feel is best. But there are 14 schools in the SEC, and no two are the same. In the 11 states that make up the footprint of the SEC, everyone's a little bit different. It's the same as you see with every state in this country as far as how they view reopening.

Q: What was your recommendation to President Jere Morehead on athletes returning?

A: That's between him and me. Sorry.

Q: Is there a consensus among ADs as to how to proceed in June?

A: No. I mean, everyone has different opinions about the topic and they express those opinions. But then the presidents, at some point in time, will vote and we'll all move forward.

Q: What do you think a return will look like from a testing and logistics standpoint?

A: Dr. (Brian) Hainline (NCAA chief medical officer) said on the NCAA website's podcast the other day that there's going to have to be an "inner bubble" and an "outer bubble" whenever we do return to campus. As I read his comments, I was left to think those two will be treated differently. If you have a certain population that surrounds these student-athletes on a daily basis, they'll be treated differently than another group that might not need to be around the players. There are so many different groups providing guidance, and we have to listen to them. The Southeastern Conference has a medical advisory group, on which Ron Courson serves representing Georgia, and it will provide guidance to the athletic directors and the presidents on health-and-safety topics.

Q: Will athletes be allowed to leave campus once here?

A: I don't know. We can talk about testing and do all this, but you can test negative one day, and the next day you're positive, just like we saw in the White House. So, whatever it is, best practices have to be in play with everyone all the time. The education piece and the learning curve are going to be very important. We're seeing it at work some now with NASCAR and we'll see it as baseball develops and the NFL develops, the NBA. So, we'll have some examples to follow.

Q: How will liability figure into all this?

A: Liability is always a concern. I'm sure that's being discussed, but I have not been involved in those conversations.

Q: Will UGA Athletics be subject to furloughs as is expected to be the case for University System of Georgia employees throughout the state?

A: Once the USG formalizes the plans, there's several pieces to the reduction plan. Furloughs is one, the reduction in the universities' budgets is another. So, we'll know over the coming weeks once the state comes out with the procedures to follow. That will be over the next 10 to 14 days, I think.

Q: What about high-salaried employees such as football coach Kirby Smart? He makes $6.7 million. How much of his pay or his time might he have to concede? 

We don’t know at this time, but the majority of our staff are state employees. We haven’t gotten into the weeds on it yet. There is no state money in our program. We don’t depend on state funding in athletics. But we are a member of the university community, and we must be sensitive to that. What that will look like hasn’t been defined yet.

Q: The SEC spring meetings in Destin that were supposed to be held next week have been canceled. Will they otherwise be held via digital conference call?

A: The athletic directors are meeting anyway; we're meeting more now than we ever have. (Women's basketball, men's basketball and football) coaches have already had their meetings. So, I'm not sure that there will be any special meetings. I think there will have to be a business session at the end of it. But I don't think there's anything unusual. We're operating as we usually do.

Q: What about the UGA athletic board, which was scheduled to meet June 4 at Lake Oconee?

A: I haven't heard the final word yet. More than likely we'll meet virtually, but a final decision hasn't been made. It won't be at Lake Oconee. It'll either be virtually or on campus, but no decision has been made yet.