The staff will return in layers under a plan released by the university on Thursday. The student-athletes will be allowed to come back during a window that starts June 15. They can begin voluntary workouts in small groups with an eye on more organized team workouts in July with NCAA approval. When they arrive, they can expect to find a lot more sanitizing, cleaning and other measures to protect them from the novel coronavirus in addition to constant reminders about social distancing.
“It's my expectation that it'll be different,” ETSU athletic director Scott Carter said Thursday morning during a videoconference with local media. “It's not going to look exactly the same because you know we are going to have folks wearing face coverings and being more distant and keeping their space with one another. I'm hoping there can be a little bit of a sense of normalcy.
“My hope is that we'll have 30 to 50 student-athletes that will work in these voluntary workouts. We'll have limited numbers of them in our strength and conditioning area so we won’t have a compressed volume where people are on top of one another in confined spaces. We’ll be very careful about that.”
The NCAA is set to decide when to allow organized workouts to begin. Sometime in July is the target date. Preseason camp for the ETSU football team is scheduled to start July 30. Spring practice was canceled in April, so everyone is champing at the bit to get going.
“We need to get back,” ETSU football coach Randy Sanders said in a subsequent videoconference. “Like I mentioned, if there was ever a team that needed spring practice, this was it. We needed it because we’re so young. We have so many questions at so many positions. We need to see what some guys can do and who we can count on.
“I think they’re ready to get going. Once they get the OK, we’ll have a pretty decent number. I know there’s a lot of guys ready to get back to Johnson City and get back to work.”
Sanders says he’s been confident all along that college football will be played this season in some fashion. He’s also hoping it can be done with fans in the stands. ETSU averaged 8,525 fans a game at Greene Stadium last year. That’s higher than the stadium’s capacity, so eliminating fans would be a huge hit to the school.
“We have such a great environment; I hope that doesn’t happen,” Sanders said. “I really think in some way, some shape, some form we will have fans in the stands. It may look a little different. They may be scattered out a little bit more.”
EYE ON THE BUDGET
With Furman and Appalachian State recently eliminating several sports in an attempt to lessen athletic departments’ expected financial strain of what might become the “new normal,” Carter said ETSU is working on the budget, cutting costs wherever it can to avoid dropping any programs.
“You never want to see opportunities eliminated,” Carter said. “Those are the hardest decisions that anyone in leadership would ever have to make. I certainly feel for those athletic directors at both those schools. They’re good friends of mine and I'm sorry for what they're having to go through. I pray for them because that's a tough deal and I lived through that, obviously, as a football player here many years ago and it's a very painful dynamic. We're doing everything we can. Everybody’s struggling with their budget, there's no question about that, but I'm very proud of what we've been able to do.”
That’s not to say Carter would commit to never dropping a sport should it become entirely necessary.
“I won't be the crystal ball predictor of the future,” he said. “You know if budget problems persist for a long period of time, you never know what you would have to deal with, so I won't be so bold as to say never, ever on things. But right now we're working very hard on our operations, on our travel, on our equipment orders — on all the things that we can really try to dig into and make some adjustments in.
“Everyone is taking this seriously. Everyone understands that we are not different from anybody else. Everyone's dealing with budget challenges and needs to make tough decisions about what they can and can't live without, what's a need versus a want.”