A month ago, starting the college sports season on time was a long shot.
Every state in the nation was under a stay-at-home order and athletes around the country had to find unique ways to stay in peak shape without their usual training regimens to abide by social distancing guidelines.
Georgia was the first state in America to open up in any capacity on April 24. Every other state with a Southeastern Conference school followed shortly thereafter.
Now as Memorial Day weekend ends, SEC schools are less than two weeks away from welcoming student-athletes back to campuses for training.
The conference’s presidents and chancellors voted to allow football, men's basketball and women's basketball players to return to campus for voluntary in-person team activities starting June 8 at the earliest, the SEC announced last Friday.
Nothing has been made official for other sports returning to Missouri for voluntary activities, although the SEC allowed their return on Friday as well.
“We were on a call today and we heard from the doctors that feel like probably the safest place they can be is with the groups that we put together and the steps that we take to create safe environments,” Missouri athletic director Jim Sterk said on SEC Network last Thursday. “(For) example of working out in our weight room, there's fogging machines that'll cleanse it and the steps that you take, taking temperatures daily, as opposed to going to an open gym in the community where there may not be those kinds of restrictions.
“... We want to continue to build on that and build confidence I guess to the moms and dads and the student-athletes that it’s a good place.”
All activities were suspended from the middle of March to May 31 by the SEC because of the coronavirus pandemic.
The league put together a task force to recommend several procedures for best keeping an outbreak away from campuses. Individual schools are creating exact plans to implement.
Aside from social distancing and intense cleaning of all facilities, the task force has made recommendations of education for all student-athletes and coaches on the best health and wellness practices including the prevention of COVID-19.
There’s also a three-step screening process for symptoms of the disease where athletes should be checked before coming to Columbia, within three days of entering campus and on a daily basis when athletic competition resumes.
There’s testing to symptomatic members of any team and isolation of anyone that is diagnosed or being tested with probable cause of coronavirus.
The task force also recommends contact tracing, following Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and local public health guidelines.
“People are feeling more comfortable,” Sterk said on Thursday. “... Two weeks ago, when I started to come in and (UM System) President (Mun) Choi asked us in athletics to start to repopulate and do it in a safe way. And then, now the rest of the campus is taking those steps.
“... So, I think people are understanding and I think the medical community understands the disease, a lot more than they did three weeks ago and continue to feel better about what's going on and obviously we need to do it in a smart and safe way so that it doesn't return in a significant way. There's always going to be cases but I think, until there's a vaccine, people are learning more, they're starting to get more information and then feeling more comfortable about going out.”
With videos surfacing online of packed venues at the Lake of the Ozarks over the weekend with no social distancing guidelines being followed, Missouri could be a hot spot for a new wave of coronavirus cases. On Monday, the state added 179 cases and surpassed 12,000 confirmed cases in total.
Sterk said it was a tough question to answer as to how to handle a coronavirus case with a student-athlete or someone else in the athletic department who's been in a MU facility. Yet, that’s a vital part of the process.
Sterk also said COVID-19 tests will cost the university $65 per sample.
“We've had advice that the best prevention and the best way to handle this is doing all those premium preventative measures of testing temperature, keeping things sanitized, making sure that we're screening on a daily basis and wearing a mask if you can. If you can't keep the six feet of separation,” Sterk added.
The university will not be testing each individual at this time, but things could change based on the validity of the test, Sterk said.
One suggested measure that will not be taken by the football team is busing to away games, as Sterk said Thursday that the team will have charter flights for each of its five away games.
The 2020 schedule sees the Tigers travel to face South Carolina, BYU, Tennessee, Florida and Mississippi State.