The idea of college athletics happening in the fall is slowly moving from hope to reality.
In a local TV interview on Friday, McNeese State Interim Athletic Director Tanner Stines confirmed that the Southland Conference will start allowing players back on campus beginning June 1.
On March 20, the NCAA Division I Council approved voluntary workouts for football as well as men's and women's basketball starting in June. Other sports will be voted on by the council in the coming weeks.
"I think everybody is using this as a good gauge, when you can bring (student-athletes) back in a voluntary manner," Stines said. "Most everybody's not; they've got online summer school so it's an atypical summer. But you do have a lot of kids that are still in your area or still on your campus who you allow them access back in. It also allows us to start testing the protocols that we're putting in place for return to play."
Stines said that for all of the voluntary athletic activity, athletes will have to go through the training room to get their temperature checked. The training room, for the time being, will be the entry point to the weight room and football field for the players, both coming and going, he said.
But Stines said he believes that slowly putting the protocols in place for temperature checks, sanitization and cleaning of the athletic areas used for workouts should be better and easier than waiting until all of the athletes are back and using all of the facilities at once.
From the athletic department's perspective, Stines said the hope is that the protocols are implemented effectively enough in June that the chances of a normal regular-season start are increased. In that case, the players won't have as much time to do the strength and conditioning workouts and get in padded practices, simply because they can't make up for the lost spring practices.
If the games do proceed as scheduled in the fall, do not expect McNeese to go with partial crowds if they're not required to. Stines said the athletic department won't be more restrictive with attendance than is required by the SLC or NCAA. But he did acknowledge that not every school may approach it like McNeese, possibly leading to other schools enforcing attendance with limited attendance.
"I think it's all relative to each (school's) individual area," Stines said. "In Southwest Louisiana, if you look at what the appetite from the fan base and from the people that are out in the public on public spaces that are available now (is), casinos opened up last weekend. There were 200 people at the door when they opened, cheering to come back. I think it's going to be your specific area. We might be way different than they are over in New Orleans. They may be a lot more concerned about their large gatherings."
The first regular-season football game at Louisiana-Lafayette is scheduled for Sept. 5.