OXFORD – July 1 remains the target date for athletes to return to the Ole Miss campus, but a lot has to happen in the next 55 days to make that happen.
Part of that involves getting Ole Miss coaches on campus beforehand, and not all of them are currently sheltering in Oxford.
In most media reports the keepers of college football won’t rule out canceling the 2020 season, but most speak with optimism and hope not only for playing the season in its entirety but starting on time.
“There are a lot of layers to it, but we believe that July 1 date is kind of an important date, the target if we’re going to bring student-athletes back, get them in shape and be ready for the fall if we’re going to start our sports on time,” Ole Miss athletics director Keith Carter said.
Even SEC Media Days, an event that brings together coaches, players and thousands of writers and broadcasters, has not yet been canceled.
SEC media relations director Herb Vincent would not discuss specifics of possible changes for the event which is set for July 13-16 in Atlanta.
“There is no change in plans at this point, but we continue to monitor developments,” Vincent said.
The first thing to happen before Ole Miss athletes return will be to make certain the school is in compliance with state and local regulations.
The Ole Miss staff is considering a number of options to increase social distancing among its athletes including smaller groups during weight-lifting sessions. This could include cross-over training with sports sharing facilities like football players lifting in the baseball weight room and vice versa.
Food and medical areas could also be reconfigured to accommodate fewer people at one time.
Athletes could have their temperature checked and answer a series of questions upon entering their facility each morning.
Hand sanitizer at all entrances and exits could be in place as well.
“I think what the campus wants from us right now is a good plan, a safe plan,” Carter said. “Obviously chancellor (Glenn) Boyce is right on the front lines of helping us make these decisions.”
Ultimately athletes and all students will have to make good decisions for their own safety.
University regulations require all students to live on campus as freshmen. Others may live on campus for different reasons bringing the total to between 80 and 120 at various times.
It’s harder to monitor those who don’t live on campus.
“That’s where the education piece comes into play. We’ve got to drill it into young peoples’ heads that if they don’t take care of their business, if they’re sloppy, if they do things that are against the protocol then it’s going to jeopardize they’re future and others’ also.”
Another key component will be a retrieval of coaches.
New Ole Miss football coach Lane Kiffin completed his first coaching staff in late January.
About half of those coaches are riding out the COVID-19 shutdown in other states. They will need to be on campus to prepare for the arrival of their players.
“If we want them back in their offices by June 1 to start preparing for a July 1 return of student-athletes then we may need to get the coaches and staff back here a week or two prior to that June 1 date to make sure they’re in Oxford, almost quarantining in Oxford a little while to monitor them before they start coming into our facilities,” Carter said.