NORMAN, Okla. — Lincoln Riley warned against bringing college football players back to campus too soon, calling the idea of a June 1 return “ridiculous” during a video conference with reporters Thursday.
The Oklahoma football coach is confident a season will take place, but he struck down the idea of sudden movement, due to the fluidity of the coronavirus pandemic.
“All this talk about these schools wanting to bring players back on June 1 is one of the most ridiculous things I’ve ever heard,” Riley said. “We’ve got to be patient.”
Southeastern Conference officials will vote May 22 on whether schools can open their facilities June 1 for voluntary workouts, league administrators told multiple outlets Thursday.
The Big 12 and Pac-12 conference suspensions on in-person organized activities are set to expire May 31 barring changes. The Big Ten’s suspension runs through June 1. The Atlantic Coast Conference stopped sports “though the remainder of the academic year” and did not specify a date in its release.
OU is one of many Power 5 universities to announce plans for in-person classes this fall.
But initiating athletics too soon is risky, Riley said.
OrangeBloods.com reported that Texas’ football staff will return to its offices next week. OU coaches won’t return until June 1 “at the earliest,” Riley said, questioning how productive that move would be for his staff anyway.
He put his assistant coaches and players in similar categories, saying no one should return until it's unnecessary.
“In my opinion we need to bring [players] in as late as we possibly can before we play a season,” Riley said. “Every day early that we bring them in is a day we could have gotten better. It’s a day we could have learned more about the virus. It’s a day PPE (personal protection equipment) maybe gets better. It’s a day closer to a vaccine. It’s a day that our testing equipment and testing capabilities get better. And it’s just not worth it. So we’ve got to be patient.
“We get one shot at this and we’ve got to do it right. There’s differing accounts right now. Do you need four weeks [to prepare]? Do you need six weeks? Do you need eight weeks? Whatever that is, a lot of those are very feasible. I think six weeks is very doable. But I think if we bring our players even one day before we have to to try to start a season, I think it’s the wrong thing. We’re pushing hard for that right now.”
College football coaches, administrators and league commissioners have not agreed on a model for games next season. Before that occurs, players must reassemble for training camps.
Athletic directors and coaches ultimately have little say in how soon that occurs; local government orders will empower university boards and presidents to determine how quickly students may assemble on campus.
A late start to training could mean a late start to the season. But Riley indicated a wait might be worthwhile.
His view splintered from the one Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy expressed to reporters on April 7, when he wanted the Cowboys’ facilities open May 1.
College athletics is bracing for big changes this fall if sports are back in the fold. Virus testing, staggered workout schedules, sanitation methods, social distancing and virtual recruiting could all become norms for the foreseeable future.
OU is preparing for a testing system, which Riley did not discuss in detail. There will also be changes in the amount of players and coaches who can be together at once.
“You're not gonna be having a team meeting in your team meeting room. It's not gonna happen,” Riley said. “Something that's crazy, you may have to have a team meeting in the stands, where you've got everybody six feet apart.”
Riley believes mishandling the reintegration process would compromise health and safety for players, who were recruited on the promise that they would receive top care from their schools.
It could also jeopardize the season.
“We’ll get one good shot at it,” he said, “to bring them back at the right time when we’re prepared and know as much about this as we possibly can.”