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Wisconsin athletics: NCAA takes first step towards college sports returning

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Division I football and basketball student-athletes can participate in on-campus voluntary athletics activities beginning June 1.

Coronavirus Cases Causes Johns Hopkins To Ban Fans At NCAA Division III Basketball Tournament Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images

On Wednesday, the NCAA took the first step towards college athletics returning for the upcoming fall season.

In a statement, the NCAA said: “Division I football and basketball student-athletes can participate in on-campus voluntary athletics activities beginning June 1, the Division I Council decided in a virtual meeting Wednesday, as long as all local, state and federal regulations are followed.”

First of all, let’s talk about what this doesn’t mean. It doesn’t mean that the whole football team is going to be back in the weight room and then doing drills on the practice field.

The Council members emphasized the importance of protecting student-athlete health and safety as schools make decisions about opening facilities for voluntary activities. The Council members also stated that access to facilities should be provided in compliance with applicable state and local regulations regarding the use of such facilities, group size restrictions and any other limits.

It also doesn’t mean that Paul Chryst, Jim Leonhard and Joe Rudolph can start installing game plans and working on schemes with the players.

Voluntary on-campus athletics activity must be initiated by the student-athlete. Coaches may not be present unless a sport-specific safety exception allows it, and activity cannot be directed by a coach or reported back to a coach.

It should be noted that “voluntary” often has an extremely different meaning when it comes to competitive athletics. Former Wisconsin Badgers basketball player Zach Bohannon shed a little light on the topic on Twitter.

Wisconsin, being a member of the Big Ten conference, is under a moratorium on activities until June 1st and we do not yet know if the conference will allow that to expire on June 1 or extend it for another month. The Big Ten said it would be reevaluating “at that time” so one would imagine there is a reason the NCAA picked the same day that the B1G’s order was expiring.

Dane County, where the University of Wisconsin-Madison is located, also has their own plan for how to safely reopen, called Forward Dane. There is nothing mentioned in the plan about the University specifically, but one would imagine they’ll be working together closely on this.

“Forward Dane is our blueprint for a safe and gradual reopening of Dane County,” said Dane County Executive Parisi. “We, like many in our county, are eager for economic stability in our community. We also know that slowing the spread of COVID-19 is critical in order to keep people safe and protect our hospital systems. Forward Dane will guide us to a future in which we can reopen our community while also preventing the spread of COVID-19.”

In an emailed statement to reporters (since Jake at AllBadgers and Todd at the State Journal have the exact same one), UW spokesperson John Lucas said:

“UW Athletics is aware of the planning phases incorporated into the Forward Dane plan from Public Health Madison & Dane County. UW-Madison participates in an ongoing partnership with local and state health authorities.

Currently, the Big Ten Conference is evaluating plans for a return to competition, with the health and safety of student athletes and spectators as its most important consideration.

While the local PHMDC order does not apply directly to units of a state agency, the university will continue to consult closely with the city and county as conference and university reopening plans continue to develop.”

As far as what all of this means for football starting in the fall? Well, it is still too early to tell but one thing is for certain...it won’t be a normal college football season. Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith, though, is already talking about getting a smaller amount of fans into the games, which would be a slight return to normalcy.

Before any of that happens, however, there is a lot to be hashed out. What will testing look like for the players? For the staff? For the stadium employees? How often should they be tested? If a player tests positive is the game canceled? The season? Is he just quarantined and everyone else is allowed to play? Hopefully all of these questions can be answered satisfactorily and the 2020 college football and basketball seasons can be played.

Wisconsin’s first game is scheduled for September 4th at Camp Randall Stadium against the Indiana Hoosiers.

While we are talking about the NCAA this is probably as good a place as any to put this news on transfer eligibility.

I don’t understand why this is something that is taking so long on which to decide, but the NCAA has never been known as a particularly efficient operation.