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UM System athletic leaders assure safe return

Rudi Keller
The Examiner

Whether fans will be able to watch the Missouri football team play from seats in Memorial Stadium is up to the Southeastern Conference, the NCAA and the Columbia-Boone County Department of Public Health and Human Services.

During a discussion of the fall academic calendar for all four university system campuses, MU athletic director Jim Sterk told a committee of the Board of Curators on Wednesday that a conference decision about attendance at sporting events is likely to come in late July.

The discussion also focused on how to keep student-athletes safe as they return this summer to train for fall sports.

Sterk said he's optimistic that fans will be on hand for games this fall.

The coronavirus pandemic has subsided in many states but not all. Missouri, for example, is seeing fewer daily new infections than it did at the height of the pandemic but has seen the average daily case count increase for three consecutive weeks.

"If we continue along that progress, I think you will see events in the fall as scheduled," Sterk said.

The decision is not just one for the SEC to make, UM System President Mun Choi said. The NCAA will have a say in the decision and so will local health departments.

"There are also questions about how the football programs will be rolled out, if a municipality is not going to allow fans in the stands," Choi said.

Alongside the return of football, men’s basketball and women’s basketball to campus this week, the three other MU sports with fall championships (volleyball, women’s soccer and cross country) will start voluntary workouts this coming Monday.

The non-basketball winter sports of gymnastics, wrestling and swimming and diving will be allowed to resume voluntary workouts June 22.

The five remaining varsity sports, all with spring championships, are slated to return July 6, nearly a month after the first student-athletes returned to Columbia. Those spring sports are baseball, softball, men’s and women’s golf, women’s tennis and men’s and women’s track and field.

No use of shared equipment will be allowed at these voluntary workouts, such as throwing a football or dribbling a basketball.

Missouri’s policy on testing student-athletes for the coronavirus changed last week before the first workouts began. All athletes will tested upon their return to campus, instead of only those with any symptoms of sickness, which was the school’s original plan.

Committee Chairman Daryl Chatman said he had spoken to Sterk about how to keep athletes safe as they return and asked the athletic directors of the Rolla, St. Louis and Kansas City campuses to describe their plans.

"Are we doing everything we can to protect the welfare of our student-athletes as they come on campus and engage in activities?" Chatman asked.

At UMKC, student-athletes are being surveyed before a scheduled return in July, said athletic director Brandon Martin.

The Kangaroos men's basketball team, and perhaps the women's team, will be coming for workouts, he said. Each student will be tested for COVID-19 about 48 hours before reporting to campus, Martin said.

"In no way will we put the student-athlete at risk moving forward," he said.

Jessica Chandler, associate director of athletics at UMSL, said all facilities are being sanitized and examined to make sure they are set up to limit potential exposure.

"We are looking at our locker rooms," she said. "Is there proper space for students to be in there together?"

At Missouri University of Science and Technology, athletic director Mark Mullin said the school is "working diligently" to prepare for athletes.

The committee also received a refresher on recruiting athletes and warnings about what to avoid as well as an update that new NCAA rules on students who want to profit from their name and likeness likely are coming in early 2021.

Columbia Daily Tribune sports reporter Eric Blum contributed to this report.