MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — As discussions continue about what the potential start to the 2020 college football season could look like, WVU director of athletics Shane Lyons will be a significant voice in the process. Lyons is the Chairman of the NCAA Division I Football Oversight Committee. He has served in that role since 2018.
It is increasingly likely that some schools may not be able to start the season on time based on differing stages of recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We are in a very competitive business,” Lyons said. “So we understand different states are going to open up at different times. What does that look like? Where does the competitive equity come into play?
“We had some time to talk about different models, anywhere from a six to four week model — six weeks being optimal, four weeks being the minimum.”
Lyons spoke Friday evening on an ‘NCAA Social Series’ web event that also featured ESPN analyst Kirk Herbstreit and NCAA Chief Medical Officer Dr. Brian Hainline.
The California State University system announced earlier this week that they will not open for most on-campus classes this fall. The majority of classes will be held online.
“The California schools, especially with the news that came out this week, that raises a lot of eyebrows,” Lyons said. “How is this going to work? Maybe there will be inequalities. We may start football without some schools starting at that point.”
Unlike in the major professional sports, there is no commissioner for NCAA football. The decisions of when and how to return to play will involve several entities.
“There are three issues at hand,” Hainline said. “One from a federal level, are we allowed to engage? The next is each state is going to be a little different. New York is different than Texas. And then the school ultimately has to feel comfortable within the state guidelines.”
“There isn’t one person who is ultimately going to make the decision,” Lyons said. “It is a collaborative effort among the conferences. The NCAA, the medical experts, local health departments, there are a lot of different entities that are going to take part in this.
“Our group can come up with recommendations and thoughts. But when it really boils down to what the season looks like, I think there are going to be those situations where there’s not going to be a hundred percent participation.”
When football players are eventually allowed to return to campuses to prepare for the 2020 season, testing will be a key component.
“If a player tests positive, right now that player is going to have to be quarantined for fourteen days,” Hainline said. “Then you are going to have to look at all of the close contacts.”
Practices may have a significantly different look as well. Even though the coronavirus has not been shown to be transmitted through sweat, respiratory droplets can be shared on equipment such as footballs.
“In phases one and two when you are just starting to get engaged, you want to make sure everyone is capable of doing what they need to do,” Hainline said. “We recommend that shared balls not be part of phase one and phase two. There certainly is a possibility, perhaps even a probability that the virus can be transmitted by a shared ball.”
Dr. Hainline says the decision regarding whether or not to allow fans in stadiums really starts from the inside out.
“First you imagine a ‘no fans’ scenario,” Hainline said. “You first create an inner bubble, which is players and those that are in close contact with the players. Then there is an outer bubble of people who are necessary to run the event but they are not in the same close quarters.
“If you can get those two down and you have a wide open place like a football stadium, it is actually a little bit easier when you perfect the core foundation of this to imagine having fans. Not a hundred thousand fans, but maybe you start building on that.”
With most college campuses shut down across the country entering the early stages of the summer, Lyons says the best place to monitor student-athletes could very well be at team facilities.
“We have probably 25 to 30 student-athletes who are still in the Morgantown area because they never went home. We feel as the city and state starts to reopen, we would rather have them back on our facility than them going to a local gym working out. We have more control mechanisms from a safety and health standpoint than they do.”