NCAA to allow football programs to bring players back to campus starting June 1 for voluntary workouts

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With each passing day, it’s looking more and more likely there’ll be a college football season.  At least, there will be one in some form or fashion.

Wednesday, the NCAA confirmed that some sports will be permitted to resume voluntary on-campus activities beginning June 1.  Included in that limited group (for now) are college football players.  Men’s and women’s basketball are permitted a limited resumption as well.

The NCAA made sure to stress that the on-campus activities are voluntary.Voluntary on-campus athletics activity must be initiated by the student-athlete. Coaches may not be present unless a sport-specific safety exception allows it, and activity cannot be directed by a coach or reported back to a coach.

“We encourage each school to use its discretion to make the best decisions possible for football and basketball student-athletes within the appropriate resocialization framework,” said Division I Council chair M. Grace Calhoun, athletics director at Pennsylvania, said in a statement. “Allowing for voluntary athletics activity acknowledges that reopening our campuses will be an individual decision but should be based on advice from medical experts.”

With the NCAA’s announcement, it will be up to each individual conference — and each individual institution — to reopen the doors for college football players to return to campus.  In accordance with local and state guidelines, obviously.

It’s already been confirmed that the SEC will vote this Friday on whether to bring student-athletes, including college football players, back to campus June 1 or June 15.  Of the 14 athletic directors in the conference, just one, Tennessee’s Phillip Fulmer, is not in favor of the June 1 date for a return.  The Big Ten is also expected to allow players back to campus early this month, with schools such as Ohio State targeting June 8.

The Big 12, meanwhile, is eyeing a mid- to late-June return date for student-athletes.  The Pac-12 will make a determination next week.  The ACC is expected to do the same.

Exactly when these various conferences can start actual practices for the start of the 2020 college football remains to be seen.

In addition to the resumption of on-campus workouts, the NCAA also announced a handful of waivers have been granted.  Those related to the highest level of football includes:

  • Waiving the minimum football attendance requirement for Football Bowl Subdivision members for two years.
  • Financial aid minimums for FBS schools were waived to permit an institution to award at least 75% of the maximum FBS financial aid limit for three years. In addition, institutions will be permitted to award a minimum of 150 athletics grants-in-aid or expend a minimum of $3 million on grants-in-aid to student-athletes for a period of three years. Gender equity requirements and rules governing nonrenewal/cancellation of aid remain in effect.
  • FBS schools will not be required to play 60% of their games against FBS members or play five home games against FBS opponents.

The latter waiver is nearly as important as the resumption of on-campus workouts. The easing of those restrictions will allow athletic directors across the country the flexibility to get in a full slate of games — or as close to a full slate of games — as we continue to weave our way through the coronavirus pandemic.

Minnesota gives Fleck 1-year extension, plus raise

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MINNEAPOLIS — Minnesota football coach P.J. Fleck had his contract extended Wednesday by an additional year with a $1 million raise in annual salary, after the latest round of big spending by Big Ten rivals.

The new seven-year deal will run through the 2029 season, the university announced without releasing terms. Fleck will now make $6 million per year, a person with knowledge of the contract confirmed. The person spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because the deal had not yet been finalized.

Last week, Nebraska hired Matt Rhule and Wisconsin hired Luke Fickell to put them in the top tier of head coach compensation in the conference. In terms of average annual value, the 42-year-old Fleck is eighth in the Big Ten behind Michigan State’s Mel Tucker, Ohio State’s Ryan Day, Rhule, Fickell, Penn State’s James Franklin, Michigan’s Jim Harbaugh and Iowa’s Kirk Ferentz. All seven of those coaches make $7 million or more per season.

The Gophers (8-4) play Syracuse in the Pinstripe Bowl on Dec. 29. They’re 3-0 in bowl games under Fleck, who was hired away from Western Michigan in 2017.

Minnesota tied for second place in the Big Ten West Division this year, behind Purdue. Fleck is 43-27 overall with the Gophers, including 26-26 in conference play. They’re 0-6 against Iowa and 3-3 against Wisconsin, their primary rivals.

Fleck’s winning percentage is third-best in program history among coaches with 45 games or more, behind Henry Williams (1900-21) and Bernie Bierman (1932-41).

“What P.J. and his staff have done in a short amount of time is remarkable,” athletic director Mark Coyle said in a statement distributed by the university. “He has recruited and developed some of the best student-athletes to ever play at Minnesota and his team continues to excel academically, athletically and socially.”

This is the fifth time in six years on the job that Fleck’s deal has been adjusted to keep up with the competition, as power conference coach contracts these days rarely have less than five years on them at any time. Minnesota extended his deal a year ago, too.

In that iteration of his contract, the termination fees Fleck would owe Minnesota if he were to hop to another program were bumped way up. Those numbers landed at $7 million in 2023, $5 million in 2024, $4 million in 2025 and $3 million in 2026. Details about those figures in the new deal were not immediately available.

Virginia players granted extra year of eligibility

Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports
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CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. — The NCAA has granted an extra year of eligibility to Virginia players whose eligibility has expired in the aftermath of the slaying of three members of the team, the school confirmed.

Lavel Davis Jr., D’Sean Perry and Devin Chandler were killed last month as they returned to campus from a field trip to see a play in Washington, D.C. A former player at the school, Christopher Darnell Jones Jr., is facing three counts of second-degree murder and other charges in the shooting. A fourth player, Mike Hollins, and student Marlee Morgan were injured in the shooting.

Virginia canceled its final two games of the season after the shooting, and the team and university community memorialized the victims in a nearly two-hour service on campus. Team members also traveled to each of the three funerals held for their teammates.