Missouri and fellow Southeastern Conference schools plan to have athletes in select sports back on campus starting June 8 with an eye toward moving forward with fall seasons, including football, as scheduled.
The SEC announced Friday afternoon that member institutions are allowed to have student-athletes back on campus for voluntary workouts starting on that date, all under "strict supervision of designated university personnel and safety guidelines developed by each institution."
The sports allowed back on campus first are football, men’s basketball and women’s basketball. Other teams, such as volleyball and women’s soccer that start their seasons in August, could make returns to campus shortly thereafter.
"Our goal remains an on-time start to the fall sports season for all of our teams, and having football, men's basketball and women's basketball players return June 8 for voluntary workouts is the first step on that journey forward in today's challenging climate," MU athletic director Jim Sterk said in a statement.
"I expect that at some point down the road the NCAA and SEC will allow student-athletes from other sports to return, and when they do, we will likely phase those in starting with the remaining fall sports teams."
The SEC said its intent is to begin a transition period that will allow student-athletes to gradually adapt to training and sports activity.
The decision was made by the league’s Return to Activity and Medical Guidance Task Force, a cross-section of public health, infectious disease and sports medicine professionals from the 14 member institutions in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic.
"The safe and healthy return of our student-athletes, coaches, administrators and our greater university communities have been and will continue to serve as our guiding principle as we navigate this complex and constantly-evolving situation," SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey said in a statement. "At this time, we are preparing to begin the fall sports season as currently scheduled, and this limited resumption of voluntary athletic activities on June 8 is an important initial step in that process."
The announcement ends a moratorium on on-campus athletic activities that began March 12, when sports were canceled beginning with the SEC men’s basketball tournament and the first weekend of conference play in baseball. Five days later, all spring sports were called off.
The task force provided schools with a series of best practices for screening, testing, social distancing, cleaning and other precautions to make on-campus facilities safe for athletes. In addition to those practices, the SEC recommended further education of all team members on health and wellness best practices, a three-stage screening process before athletes arrive on campus, and testing and immediate isolation of symptomatic players.
"This is an important first step toward having a season this fall," Auburn football coach Gus Malzahn said, "and we will continue to collectively work together as our top priority is to ensure the safety and well-being of our student-athletes, coaches and staff."
The action comes two days after the NCAA Division I Council voted to allow athletes in football, men’s basketball and women’s basketball to return to campus for voluntary workouts beginning June 1.
Scott Striklin, Florida’s athletics director, said the school’s student-athlete wellness group has worked with campus health officials on a plan to bring in athletes.
"They have developed a gradual phasing program, so that we don't have an influx of a large number of student athletes returning at once," Stricklin said. "Football, volleyball and soccer teams will return in phases … in the month of June."
In March, Alabama football coach Nick Saban said he hoped to use summer workouts as a way to replace spring practice.
"If there was a way we could have 14 days of teaching with our players sometime before fall camp happens, I think that probably would be beneficial," Saban said. "Historically we’re not allowed to work with our players in the summertime. This would be hypothetical that at some point in time in the summer, we would have the players back here and we would be able to work with them. I’m not talking about having pads on, but just be able to teach system, teach scheme."
The NCAA, however, limited current voluntary workouts to those led by strength and conditioning personnel.
"The health, safety and well-being of Mizzou's student-athletes, coaches, staff and fans is paramount and will be at the forefront in our decision-making process regarding the challenges we face with the COVID-19 pandemic," Sterk said. "For well over a month, our internal Mizzou Sports Park repopulation committee has worked with MU Health Care, university, city and county officials to design a comprehensive plan for safely bringing student-athletes back to campus next month in anticipation of resuming workouts."
Sankey said each school will make its own decisions on how to proceed.
"While each institution will make its own decisions in creating defined plans to safely return student-athletes to activity, it is essential to employ a collaborative approach that involves input from public health officials, coaches, sports medicine staff, sports performance personnel and student-athletes," he said.
"Elements of the task force recommendations provided key guidance for determining the date of the return to activity."
Eric Blum and Kevin Graeler of the Columbia Daily Tribune contributed to this report.