Gee says Big 12 schools have ‘near consensus’ on return-to-play

(E. Gordon Gee Citynet Statewide Sportsline appearance)


MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — The first steps towards an on-time start to the 2020 college football season appear to be in motion.

The NCAA voted to allow student-athletes in football and basketball to return to campus starting on June 1. A moratorium on all in-person activities is set to expire on May 31.

“I don’t want to rush into it too early,” said WVU President E. Gordon Gee. “Dr. Clay Marsh is in charge of the coronavirus in this state. Of course he is our Vice President and we have a lot of great folks.

“There is a debate among the Big 12 presidents on whether we do June 1 or we do June 15 or we do July 1. We know this — if we are going to play football in the fall, which we are, the latest we could open up to our student-athletes could be about July 15. I would compromise and say we bring our athletes back around June 15. Shane Lyons and his team will make that call.”

State and local health officials will be consulted before any athletes are allowed to return to their respective campuses around the country to start in-person workouts. Gee says leaders in the Big 12 are unified in the prospect of football returning this fall.

“Among the Big 12, we have near consensus both among the athletic directors and the presidents. We may be tweaking it but everyone of our schools is determined to open. Everyone of our schools is determined to play football. Everyone of our schools is determined that we will follow strict protocols in terms of health and safety of our athletes and fans.”

Without a commissioner in place for college football, ‘Power 5’ conference commissioners and university presidents will ultimately determine how the premier programs will proceed.

“We don’t have a czar for college football. In this instance it might be helpful because we want to make certain that at least the 65 ‘Power 5’ institutions are pretty much aligned as to how we are going to conduct our sports programs this year.”

If the 2020 football season does start on time, fan attendance may have a significantly different look. Gee says the situations at the 60,000-seat Milan Puskar Stadium and the 104,944-seat Ohio Stadium create different scenarios.

“Our stadium is configured in a very good way. Of course people are cheek-to-jowl but unlike Ohio Stadium where I was for a long time, we are not so on top of each other that we don’t have openness.

“One of the best things we can do is make wearing masks cool.”

Two weeks ago, the WVU Department of Athletics announced staff reductions and furloughs. Gee says the financial impacts of the pandemic will be significant even if the football season can start and finish on time.

“Shane Lyons has been very adept at moving swiftly to make certain that we do not run into tremendously difficult financial problems. We have furloughed some people. A number of our people are taking salary reductions. A number of things can make certain we sustain ourselves.”

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