COLUMBIA — The only thing certain about the next college football season is that it won’t be anything like the last one.
“A return to normal will not happen this fall,” South Carolina athletics director Ray Tanner said in a public letter last week. “We are trying to determine what the new ‘normal’ will be.”
As colleges begin to take more and more steps to thwart the spread of the coronavirus, the answer on how to approach the football season nears its deadline. Preseason camp is scheduled to begin the first week of August, with season-openers the week of Sept. 5.
Tanner said decisions on allowed capacity at Williams-Brice Stadium, ticket distribution and safety protocols will be released in early August. SEC commissioner Greg Sankey said he would most likely present the conference’s plans for playing football by late July.
Considering the SEC covers 11 states, there are different levels of COVID-19 infection in all and there’s far too much money at stake to issue a “we’re not playing” dictum, Sankey’s statement is likely to be a tiptoe into the season. At USC, in the same state where record-highs of COVID-19 cases are being set nearly every day and the athletics department refuses to release the number of athletes affected, it will have to approach the season with even more caution.
“At this point we do not know what the 2020 football season will look like. We want to be able to gather as much information as possible, working with the SEC office and the member institutions before any decisions are made,” Tanner said. “These are challenging and, yes, agonizing times.”
The Gamecocks’ football team has been on campus since June 8, participating in voluntary workouts. The men’s and women’s soccer teams reported to campus this week for the same, while the men’s and women’s basketball teams will report sometime after July 20.
Keeping the athletes healthy is USC’s first priority and all coaches and athletes are expected to adhere to safety protocols, although nobody has had to sign a waiver declaring they will, as other schools have required. Tanner and his department are constantly cycling through economic models of what could or could not happen, with an athletics budget recently submitted showing optimistic news.
“The only thing certain about this budget is it will change,” said trustee Mack Whittle, also the head of the USC Board of Trustees’ Intercollegiate Athletics Committee.
USC’s top-paid coaches – Will Muschamp (football), Frank Martin (men’s basketball) and Dawn Staley (women’s basketball) – and Tanner have already taken voluntary salary cuts. Tanner revealed that many athletic staffers will have to take furloughs this year ranging from two to four weeks. Athletic expenses have been trimmed as well.
“We all want to get you the best and most accurate information as soon as we can as we move forward with challenging and difficult decisions,” Tanner said. “I will never give up pursuing what our program needs to adequately represent the student-athletes, coaches and staff, fans and the university with class, dignity and victory.”
Follow David Cloninger on Twitter @DCPandC.