SEC schools expect campuses to be open in fall

By: John Zenor, The Associated Press
Published: Thursday, May 7, 2020
A SEC Championship helmet is seen, Friday, Nov. 30, 2018, in Atlanta. Georgia and Alabama will play Saturday in the Southeastern Conference championship NCAA college football game. (AP Photo/John Bazemore)
A SEC Championship helmet is seen, Friday, Nov. 30, 2018, in Atlanta. Georgia and Alabama will play Saturday in the Southeastern Conference championship NCAA college football game. (AP Photo/John Bazemore)

All but one of the 14 schools in the Southeastern Conference have indicated they plan to reopen their campuses for the fall semester, a step widely believed to be needed to resume football and other sports.

South Carolina and Tennessee on Wednesday became the latest schools in the nation's top football conference to announce their plans, joining Alabama, LSU and others.

Vanderbilt hasn't announced its plans for the fall. Every other school has been more vocal in their intentions to reopen their buildings while students and faculty participate for now in remote learning through the summer because of the coronavirus pandemic.

South Carolina President Bob Caslen said the Columbia campus "will resume in-person instruction in mid-August."

"We will follow clear public health protocols, including social distancing within classrooms, lecture halls, meeting rooms and sports venues, with strong encouragement of proper social distancing off campus," he said.

Tennessee President Randy Boyd said the university plans to "bring students back for an on-campus experience this fall."

Reopening campuses is seen as a mandatory step before sports can resume. The commissioners of the nation's major college football leagues have stressed that college sports cannot return from the shutdown until campuses have reopened.

Dr. Brian Hainline, the NCAA's chief medical officer, has also said widespread testing for the coronavirus will be crucial to having college sports in the fall, especially contact sports such as football and basketball.

At LSU, home to the national champion Tigers, LSU Interim President Tom Galligan told The Daily Reveille newspaper there are definite plans to return to campus this fall — even if details about football remain unclear.

"It may be a little different in some ways, but I think it's important to play the season, and I hope we do so," Galligan said.

The season begins Aug. 29, though SEC schools don't begin play until the following week.

SEC officials continue to strike an optimistic tone along with their member schools.

"Our current focus is on preparing to play the 2020 football season as scheduled," the league said in a statement Wednesday. "If it is determined that we must pivot to another solution in the interest of public health, we'll do so at the appropriate time."

Auburn is planning to reopen the campus but said in a statement the university will announce its detailed plans no later than early July.

Likewise, Joe Glover, Florida's provost and senior vice president for academic affairs, said his school expects to announce plans for the fall by mid-July. Florida trustees approved moving the first day of fall classes from Aug. 24 to Aug. 31 to provide more time to prepare.

The Gators' football opener against Eastern Washington is set for Sept. 5.

Missouri announced plans to reopen in the fall, but warned of a "new normal." Texas A&M President Michael K. Young said the plan in College Station is "to be fully open and operational" in the fall.

"While we know online classes are an option if needed, we plan to be fully open and operational, with dedicated faculty and staff leaning into preparing for all the requirements necessary to do so safely across academics, athletics and campus activities," he said.

The Arkansas board of trustees has instructed university officials to prepare to reopen the system campuses in the fall. Other league members such as Mississippi and Kentucky, have done the same.

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