After the coronavirus pandemic wiped out spring practice for most major college football teams, an NCAA plan to extend the preseason by two weeks could help coaches and players make up for the lost time.
The NCAA’s football oversight committee expects to finalize a plan today to allow teams to conduct up to 12 unpadded, slow-speed practices, also known as walk-throughs, during the 14 days before the typical preseason begins in August.
Teams will be permitted up to 20 hours per week of what the NCAA calls countable athletically related activities during those extra two weeks, leading into a normal 29-day preseason practice schedule.
The walk-throughs will be part of those 20 hours per week, along with weight training, conditioning, film study and meetings. Players will not be permitted to wear pads or helmets during walk-throughs, which cannot exceed one hour per day.
Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly said the extra time on the field with a ball will be valuable for teaching schemes, but not necessarily for assessing player development.
"All the install (time) that you didn’t get in in the spring is really going to take place during that period," Kelly said. "There won’t be an opportunity to see skills on display."
The football oversight committee has been circulating its proposed schedule to NCAA members as a way to encourage feedback. West Virginia athletic director Shane Lyons said he doesn’t expect much to change before it is taken to the Division I Council for approval next week. The council will meet Wednesday.
"There’s been a lot of collaboration among the conferences," Lyons said.
Schools started bringing football players back to campus this week for voluntary workouts — mostly weight training and conditioning — in team facilities. Players are being tested and screened for COVID-19 and will continue to be monitored.
Under the oversight committee’s plan, the period of voluntary activities would run until about July 12, depending on the exact date of a team’s opening game. That would be followed by two weeks of summer access, which usually happens earlier in the year.
During that time, coaches can require up to eight hours per week of weight training, conditioning and film study. Lyons said if any tweaks are made to the plan before it goes to the council, they would likely be made to this two-week period.
Around July 24, meetings and walk-throughs can begin. Then, 29 days before a team’s first game — Aug. 7 if the opener is Sept. 5, as it is for Ohio State — the usual preseason practice period starts.
Lyons said teams will be required to complete at least the four weeks of standard preseason before playing a game.
There has been concern among NCAA officials and athletic administrators that some schools will not be able to start their preseason work soon enough to begin their seasons on time because of coronavirus restrictions put in place by state and local authorities.
Those fears seem to be easing now.
"It all gives us a little bit of relief knowing the campuses are starting to reopen and these student-athletes are back working out on campus," Lyons said.
What will practice look like during a pandemic? The oversight committee won’t be in charge of those details. Those decisions will be made at the school level, guided by local health officials, but medical experts at the conference and NCAA levels are expected to provide guidance.