A slow but steady drumbeat is building toward the attempt to play major intercollegiate sports in the 2020-21 academic year, and the latest bit of percussion added came Wednesday, as the NCAA’s Division I Council voted to allow voluntary athletic activities for football and men’s and women’s basketball to resume as of June 1, according to multiple reports.
This should allow for, among other possibilities, student-athletes returning to campuses for workouts — and potentially enrolling in person for summer or other classes that will be conducted online. A report from Bucknuts, the 247Sports site covering the Ohio State Buckeyes, suggests that Ohio State football players are set to report to Columbus on June 8, a day before the school’s second session of summer classes in its 2019-20 academic year begins.
The equivalent date for Florida — which counts its 2020 summer classes as part of an 2020-21 academic year that ends in the spring, unlike Ohio State — would be June 27, as classes begin for UF’s Summer B term on June 28 and run through August 6. But whether the university or the University Athletic Association are currently planning for such a return is unclear, especially because Florida’s still in the middle of a phased return to normal activity after its full-scale lockdown in response to the novel coronavirus, while Ohio Governor Mike DeWine fully lifted his state’s “Safe at Home” order on Tuesday, permitting travel and exchanging state mandates for “strong recommendations.”
To be clear, an equivalent move is likely a matter of when, and not if, from Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, who has been aggressive in moving Florida back towards normal operations — despite mounting criticisms about the state’s handling of unemployment claims and the state’s treatment of coronavirus-related data, which it reportedly asked counties to stop publicly publishing in April. Just this week, a controversy has developed over a Department of Health data manager who claims she was fired over inputting data for the state’s coronavirus website, which prompted DeSantis to publicly dispute her story on Wednesday.
And what the data that is being published shows is not a full-on flattening or crushing of the curve, but a fairly static drip of in positive tests that is not without spikes — on Saturday, May 16, the state reported more than 1,000 positive tests after not doing so since April 23, and it has not reported fewer than 343 positive tests on any day in the last 30.
Combine that with still-limited testing capacity — which DeSantis has said is more than adequate, a statement health care experts disagree with — and it is unclear whether the state is as ready for a return to normal operation as DeSantis would like it to be.
And that further complicates a possible return to campus and progress toward playing seasons of football or men’s and women’s basketball — not to mention other NCAA-sanctioned sports, which the Division I Council is expected to address within the week.
But on Monday, the Board of Governors of Florida’s State University System ordered the preparation of a plan for reopening Florida’s public institutions of higher learning this fall, and Tuesday brought comment from UF President Dr. Kent Fuchs that indicated that UF will submit its own plan for reopening at a June 23 board meeting. Those are clear steps toward the reopening of UF in some capacity.
And if the school reopens, one can be assured that the powers that be will attempt to make sure the Florida Gators football team that drives most of the nine figures in revenue that the UAA makes per year can do so as well.
What college football — and other collegiate sports — might look like this fall is still very much up in the air. Increasingly, though, it appears that universities will be giving athletics in the 2020-21 academic year the old college try.