The NCAA’s football oversight committee expects to finalize a plan Thursday to allow teams to conduct up to 12 unpadded, slow-speed practices, also know as walk-throughs, during the 14 days before the typical preseason begins in August.
Teams will be permitted up to 20 hours per week of what the NCAA calls countable athletically related activities during those extra two weeks, leading into a normal 29-day preseason practice schedule. The walk-throughs will be part of those 20 hours per week, along with weight training, conditioning, film study and meetings. Players will not be permitted to wear pads or helmets during walk-throughs, which cannot exceed one hour per day.
The football oversight committee has been circulating its proposed schedule to NCAA members as a way to encourage feedback before it is taken before the Division I Council for approval Wednesday, June 17.
Schools have started this week bringing their football players back to campus for voluntary workouts — mostly weight training and conditioning — in team facilities. Some, in recent days, have tested positive for COVID-19 and will continue to be monitored.
Under the oversight committee’s plan, this period of voluntary activities would run until about July 12, depending on the exact date of a team’s opening game.
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That will be followed by two weeks of summer access, which usually happens earlier in the year. During that time, coaches can require up to eight hours per week of weight training, conditioning and film study. Any tweaks made to the plan would likely be surrounding this two-week period.
About July 24, the meetings and walk-throughs can begin. Then 29 days before a team’s first game — Aug. 7 if the opener is Sept. 5 — the usual preseason practice period starts.
Potential start dates for Georgia teams
There has been concern among NCAA officials and athletic administrators that some schools will not be able to start their preseason work soon enough to begin their seasons on time because of restrictions put in place by state and local authorities to fight the coronavirus.
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What will practice look like during a pandemic? The oversight committee won’t be in charge of those details. Those decisions will be made at the school level, guided by local health officials, but medical experts at the conference and NCAA level are also expected to provide guidance.
Todd Berry, executive director for the American Football Coaches Association, said he would expect some coaches to segment their teams, holding multiple practices per day.
Berry said when he was coaching he would use this approach to give players more repetitions and individual attention. Now it could be used to limit exposure just in case a player contracts the virus.
Tulane team physician Greg Stewart, who is heading the American Athletic Conference's COVID-19 advisory panel, said the hope is testing and screening of the players for the coronavirus will go well enough that players won't need to use face coverings during practice.
“But the coaches and staffs would all wear N-95 masks,” Stewart said, referring to the highly protective masks often used by healthcare workers.
If facing coverings are needed for players, Stewart said neck gaiters — stretchy scarves made of lightweight, breathable material — could be the way teams go.