As universities around the country have begun setting dates for when their student-athletes can return to campus for voluntary individual workouts, we now know the date that has been set for the return of some UCF Knights. It’s the earliest date possible: June 1.
That’s what UCF Director of Athletics Danny White told the Orlando Sentinel on Thursday.
Although all student-athletes can resume voluntary activities as soon as Monday, White told the Sentinel that the Knights will return to individual workouts in waves, the first of which will include about 60 football players. True freshmen in football and men’s basketball will arrive later in June, and all other student-athletes will have the option to resume on-campus voluntary activities in July.
The NCAA has banned required in-person activities until at least July 1.
White also detailed the health and safety protocols in place for players and coaches upon their return. He said players will undergo baseline COVID-19 testing once they get back on campus. Players and coaches must pass a health screening every time they enter an on-campus building as well. They must wear a mask, and hand sanitizer will be available.
White himself returned to UCF’s campus this week and explained what the health screening entails: “Every morning, we have a healthcare professional at the building and they do a temperature check and ask me some questions about symptoms and [there is] a hand-sanitizing station when you enter the building.”
White added that his athletics department has been working with Orlando Health, UCF Student Health Services, other schools in Florida and other schools in the American Athletic Conference to develop safety plans.
UCF football’s season is scheduled to begin on Sept. 4 against the North Carolina Tar Heels inside Spectrum Stadium. While White would offer no guarantees, he is “optimistic” that the game will go forward as planned and with at least some fans present.
“If we had to play a football season right now, I think we could do that probably with a reduced population in the stands by following state government guidelines,” White said. “I think a lot of time is still going to pass. I’m obviously hopeful, but I’m optimistic about it.
“We are planning to play our opener against North Carolina as if everything is back to normal. We’re building contingencies for this scenario and that scenario, but we might be in a position that everything is back to normal and we can have a full stadium, so we have to be ready for that.”
White reiterated his concern about possibly playing football games without fans. He told the Sentinel that such a scenario would represent “Armageddon,” financially.
“I would hope that before we spring to that conclusion of playing games without fans, we would explore other options,” White said. “Whether that’s pushing it back a couple of months and thinking about being creative ... or even pushing it to the spring, if that’s what it takes to give ourselves every possible opportunity to play college football the way it was intended to be played, then I think we should explore that.”
There are myriad topics that weren’t covered in the article that are crucial for White to address at some point. For example:
- Will coronavirus tests be administered to players beyond that introductory test? If so, how often?
- And If so, will tests be given to symptomatic and asymptomatic personnel, or just symptomatic?
- What is the protocol when/if someone tests positive?
- If having fans in the stands is possible, what measures will be put in place to make sure they adhere to social distancing guidelines?
... and on and on and on.
I know a time for those answers will come. It has to come. But it’s May 29, and there is a lot that nobody knows, athletic directors included. The most encouraging sign almost any athletics department can currently post toward having a “normal” fall season is confirmation of when its athletes will come back to campus after more than two months away.
For UCF, that process begins Monday. It’s a relatively small step in the grand scheme, but a very significant one at this juncture. It’s something that can give us another thread of hope, even as college sports still face a nebulous future.