College athletes are returning to campuses across the country.
Voluntary workouts are underway for football and basketball players at Northern Illinois University. And the NCAA has approved plans to begin official preseason practices later this summer.
But several major football programs like LSU and Texas have seen recent COVID-19 outbreaks. NIU players had to get tested before they started their workouts and are in small groups. The university is also sanitizing facilities and equipment.
Other sports are expected to start their preseason schedule in July and August, but that could change.
“NCAA may give us clearance to be able to start the process of reintegrating student-athletes into the system, but the states have the final say so relative to the health and safety side of it,” said NIU Athletics Director, Sean Frazier.
He said he understands concerns parents and students may have about playing sports this fall.
“At the end of the day, we do not want to lose anyone because of the fact we're playing intercollegiate athletics,” Frazier said. “That's not the way of our mission, vision and goals at NIU. So we will support the athletes who, quite frankly, don't feel that they feel safe to play during this environment.”
That means no student could lose a scholarship because they don’t feel comfortable playing during the pandemic.
Some schools forced players to sign “play-at-your-own-risk” COVID-19 waivers. Frazier says that’s just not appropriate to ask college student-athletes.
He also said to expect universities to be different in the fall with academics and sports.
Football stadiums won’t be rocking with thousands of fans.
But as the next few months of COVID-19 play out, the prospect of college sports is still an “if” question more than anything.