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Minnesota Football: When will Gopher football student-athletes return to campus?

The answer is uncertain

NCAA Football: Wisconsin at Minnesota Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

Today, the NCAA’s football oversight committee is expected to approve a plan that would extend the normal fall preseason practice period by two weeks, allowing teams to conduct up to 12 walk-through practices during those additional 14 days. Once the plan has been finalized, it will be forwarded to the Division I Council for approval on Wednesday, June 17.

But uncertainty remains as to when student-athletes will be able to return to campus for summer workouts, and every school seems to be marching to their own beat. The NCAA voted to allow football and men’s and women’s basketball teams to return to campuses starting on June 1, but some schools will have to wait until restrictions in their state have been lifted.

The University of Iowa, for example, was able to bring their football players back to campus this week, with all student-athletes and coaches being tested and screened for COVID-19, because their governor has eased or lifted nearly all restrictions related to the pandemic.

Meanwhile, the University of Minnesota campus has cancelled all in-person summer classes, and a return date for student-athletes has not yet been determined. That decision will ultimately be made by University President Jean Gabel and her leadership team.

The decision will be a complicated one. President Gabel will need to work within the state government guidelines and weigh the counsel of state and public health officials, in addition to the University’s own medical and public health experts. Priority one is being able to ensure the health and well-being of the student-athletes once they are back on campus.

And even once the student-athletes are back on campus, there won’t be full practices. The voluntary activities that football and basketball programs can hold from June 1 through June 30 would instead be more like summer workouts with the strength and conditioning staff.

Phase III of the state’s Stay Safe MN plan began on Wednesday, June 10, easing restrictions on gyms and personal fitness centers, indoor and outdoor events and entertainment, organized sports, and outdoor recreation activities and facilities. So a decision from the administration regarding a return date could be made in the coming days.

President Gabel is expected to recommend to the Board of Regents this week that the university re-open for in-person instruction for the fall semester, within public health guidelines, which would increase the likelihood of the Gophers’ football season taking place as scheduled. Though I’m certain capacity at TCF Bank Stadium will be limited and seating re-organized to allow for social distancing.

This is obviously an evolving situation that can change on a daily basis — and a lot can happen between now and the Gophers’ season opener against Florida Atlantic on Thursday, September 3 — but we will keep you posted on any new developments.