Virginia Athletics announced Friday that members of the football team will be allowed to return to Grounds for voluntary workouts July 5, followed by mandatory training July 15 and fall training camp Aug. 9.
“I’m going to coach the team and do the very best I can in keeping them safe and keeping them well and keeping them growing and progressing in these unique and challenging times, and for our players that aren’t returning, there’s no penalty,” Coach Bronco Mendenhall said in an interview on Packer and Durham. “They’ll have their scholarships. I’m anxious to continue and develop and navigate this process at the very highest level and try to do what’s right.”
To develop the plans for student-athletes’ return to Grounds, Virginia Athletics coordinated with the University Health System, who worked with government officials. Virginia Athletics will follow state, federal and NCAA guidelines throughout the process.
Student-athletes returning to Grounds will be provided with educational resources, including print and media from the CDC and NCAA, that detail safety protocols and procedures regarding COVID-19. The University Health System will also conduct COVID-19 testing for athletes and staff, reporting testing results to the Virginia Department of Health as well as team physicians. In its initial statement the athletic department did not announce specific measures in the event that a player tests positive.
Virginia’s decision comes weeks after many schools across the country have allowed sports teams to resume practice schedules. After Clemson reopened its campus to student-athletes June 8, 28 athletes and staff tested positive for the virus, including 23 football players. Kansas State had to postpone training until mid-July after at least 14 football players tested positive for COVID-19, and Texas State, Mississippi State and South Florida have also reported positive tests in recent weeks.
In-state rival Virginia Tech opened its practice facilities to players in early June, announcing voluntary strength and conditioning workouts for returning players, but has yet to report any cases.
Although pre-season workouts are beginning later than usual this year, Mendenhall said that it’s debatable whether the process of returning to training needs to begin now, but also acknowledged that the season is quickly approaching. In previous years, preseason workouts began in June. He added that he believes his team will navigate these challenges with a collective mindset.
“The game of football at this time wouldn’t be playing football for the sake of football,” Mendenhall said. “This is playing a game in defiance of something so overpowering to show that a collective group of people can make powerful choices and navigate something in a positive way and in a meaningful way that actually deepens relationships and kind of perpetuates personal growth.”
Virginia Athletics hasn’t released details on student-athletes returning to other sports teams or made a decision regarding fan attendance at Scott Stadium, but the football team is set to open its season in Atlanta Sept. 7 against Georgia.