By Berry Tramel
Oklahoma plans to begin voluntary campus workouts for football players on July 1, despite many other Power 5 programs starting weeks earlier.
The Southeastern Conference voted to allow athletes to begin voluntary workouts on June 8. The Big 12 voted on a date of June 15. The Big Ten decided to let individual schools decide. Ohio State announced its athletes would be allowed back on June 8.
An Oklahoma source said the Sooners’ July 1 date would not be changed by rivals coming back earlier.
Oklahoma coach Lincoln Riley said on May 14 that it was “ridiculous” for football programs to consider starting voluntary workouts on June 1. The NCAA Division I Council voted on May 20 to allow those workouts to begin June 1.
The voluntary workouts are not the organized team workouts traditionally associated with summer and led by strength and conditioning coaches. The voluntary workouts basically mean the college training facilities will be open — they have been shuttered since the second week of March — and players can use the equipment for running, weightlifting, etc. University staff are permitted to be present, but only for safety protocols, not for leading workouts. Social distancing will be required at the workouts, the source said.
Most college athletes have been working out on their own and have received digital guidance from their schools.
The Oklahoma source said it’s possible that organized workouts could be permissible by July 1, but that would require another vote by the conferences or the NCAA.
Oklahoma is developing dates for other fall sports to report, but those dates would be after July 1.
Some in college football have said they can provide better control within their own facilities, in terms of safety from the coronavirus. Players have been working out at a variety different locations. But Oklahoma’s concern is more the social aspects of having players back on campus.
Riley talked about the 22 hours a day his players would not be working out and would likely not be practicing social distancing. Riley said the concern is not just the health of his players, but the health of all those who come in contact with the players, including a variety of university support personnel, from football-specific employees to janitorial staff to food-service workers.
“Listen, we’re going to have to do it at some point, if we’re going to try to have a season,” Riley said of players returning to campus. “I get that. But why we would not advantage our time and get as ready and educated as possible? So we’ve got to be patient.”