Fulmer: UT is “Prepared and Excited” for Return of Athletes to Campus

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    Photo by Anne Newman/RTI

    The SEC announced on Friday that all 14 teams in the conference would be allowed to have voluntary, in-person activities on league campuses beginning on Monday, June 8th. The decision will be up to each SEC program whether or not to welcome back student-athletes to campus.

    It appears as though Tennessee is one of the programs ready to let players back on campus.

    Tennessee Athletics Director Phillip Fulmer issued a statement on Friday shortly after the SEC’s decision, and he expressed his excitement for a return to “normalcy” amidst the current COVID-19 pandemic.

    “We are prepared and excited for the return of student-athletes to campus,” Fulmer said via a release. “Health and safety have been our top priority as we’ve gone about this planning process, and we’ll continue to follow guidance from medical experts and health officials as we navigate the coming weeks.

    “Our staff and student-athletes should be prepared for a ‘new normal,’ as we’ll be implementing changes to how everyone accesses and uses our facilities. We plan to be extremely diligent in maintaining a healthy environment for our student-athletes, coaches and support staffs. In the coming days, we’ll execute procedures enabling student-athletes to return, with members of our football program being the first to arrive. We will conduct screening leading up to the resumption of activities on June 8.”

    Due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the SEC had suspended all athletics activities through May 31st. The SEC men’s basketball tournament was canceled after one round of games, the baseball and softball seasons were canceled, and all spring practices and spring sporting events were canceled back in March.

    Now, teams will slowly start to trickle back to campus, assuming each university in the SEC is prepared to let athletes back.

    According to the SEC, Monday, June 8th will “begin a transition period that will allow student-athletes to gradually adapt to full training and sports activity after this recent period of inactivity. Under plans developed by each university and consistent with state and local health directives, certain activities will be permitted based on the ability to participate in controlled and regularly sanitized environments, while also maintaining recommended social distancing measures.”

    Right now, the only athletic activities that are allowed by the NCAA in the summer months are “voluntary activities supervised by strength and conditioning personnel.” That extends to football and both men’s and women’s basketball. A current waiver that permits eight hours of virtual film review for football and basketball has also been extended through June 30th.

    Consistent with NCAA regulations, organized practices and other required physical activities remain prohibited in all sports. The previously announced suspension of in-person camps and coaches clinics conducted by SEC institutions remains in effect until July 31st.

    “The safe and healthy return of our student-athletes, coaches, administrators and our greater university communities have been and will continue to serve as our guiding principle as we navigate this complex and constantly-evolving situation,” SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey said in a statement. “At this time, we are preparing to begin the fall sports season as currently scheduled, and this limited resumption of voluntary athletic activities on June 8 is an important initial step in that process.

    “Thanks to the blueprint established by our Task Force and the dedicated efforts of our universities and their athletics programs, we will be able to provide our student-athletes with far better health and wellness education, medical and psychological care and supervision than they would otherwise receive on their own while off campus or training at public facilities as states continue to reopen.”

    The 2020 football season is still tentatively set to begin on August 29th. Tennessee is scheduled to kick-off the 2020 season at home against Charlotte on Saturday, September 5th.

    Nathanael Rutherford is the managing editor and social media manager for Rocky Top Insider. Nathanael graduated from the University of Tennessee and cultivated a passion for the Vols while growing up in Knoxville a mere 10 minutes from Neyland Stadium. He's been a part of the RTI team since November of 2015 and has been the editor of RTI since June of 2017. If he's not talking or writing about Tennessee athletics, he's probably talking about Star Wars.