HUNTINGTON — College football is now on track to start the 2020 season on time following the approval of a preseason schedule by the NCAA Division I Council on Wednesday.
The preseason schedule was approved after its recommendation by the Football Oversight Committee late last week.
The NCAA released the information in a 5:52 p.m. message Wednesday after two days of meetings by the Division I Council.
The format includes summer access, which features two separate segments, before a full four weeks of preseason practice prior to competition. In all, there will be an eight-week preseason with six weeks at the normal time allotment of 20 hours per week.
West Virginia Athletic Director Shane Lyons, who is chairman of the Football Oversight Committee and is also on the Division I Council, said the format is an effort to maintain competitive balance while allowing all programs ample time to get student-athletes ready for competition following their return from the new coronavirus pandemic.
“There are a lot of pieces of the puzzle that we were putting together, but first and foremost was looking at the health and safety of the student-athlete and making sure they are prepared for those competitions once they arise,” Lyons said in a recent interview on the NCAA’s social media outlets.
The actual “preseason” model from recent years stays largely unchanged, with practice starting 29 days prior to the first contest. Programs have those 29 days to get in 25 practices, and the first five days are the acclimatization period, which is also unchanged.
The differences lie in the summer access period, which starts 25 days before the first preseason practice.
Because most programs missed some or all of spring practice sessions and the beginning of summer access, the 2020 summer access period has been modified.
The first segment of summer access allows for a maximum of eight hours of required summer athletic activities, which include weight training, conditioning and film review, which cannot exceed two hours in any week.
With 14 days left before the allowable start date of preseason practice, summer access shifts to its second segment, which allows for 20 hours per week of countable athletically related activities. There is a limit of four hours per day during the second segment.
The difference in this segment from most years is that programs will be allowed the use of a football for walk-throughs and also be able to go through meetings, which can be team, positional or individual with players. Meetings can include film review.
This was recommended by the Oversight Committee to help bridge the gap due to teams not having a spring football practice session as normal.
“It’s the start to getting ready for college football,” said Marshall Athletic Director Mike Hamrick, who also is on the Oversight Committee. “The model that we passed won’t totally replace spring football, but it is big because our coaches can start being around our players. They haven’t for a long, long time.”
To maintain competitive balance, the Oversight Committee’s recommendation had strict stipulations on a week’s time allotment. It includes no more than eight hours of weight training and conditioning, no more than six hours for walk-throughs with a football and no more than six hours for meetings.
Members of the Oversight Committee, which has representatives from leagues within FBS and FCS levels, took this model to their respective conference members for approval prior to bringing it forth to the Division I Council for their vote.
Lyons said that was done in an effort to make sure that, in an uncertain time, all members were able to find a model which best suited everyone during the fluid return from the coronavirus shutdown.
“When we got to this model, it was, ‘How can we come up with a model that’s fair from a competitive standpoint in preparing our student-athletes for competition that we can all agree upon since we didn’t have a full summer of summer access that we normally have with our student-athletes?’” Lyons said. “I don’t think we wanted to do anything within a vacuum.”
Following the 14-day second segment of summer access, programs transition into preseason practice, which begins 29 days prior to a team’s first contest and starts with the five-day acclimatization period as normal.
Wednesday’s approval means that most NCAA programs — West Virginia University included — will start their first summer access period on July 13 and the second will start on July 24. With most programs starting the season on Sept. 5, that would mean the five-day acclimatization period that signals the start of preseason practice would begin on Aug. 7.
The NCAA statement outlined this on Wednesday.
“Assuming a first game on Sept. 5, the model begins summer access activities July 13 and adds meetings and walk-throughs on July 24,” the message read. “Preseason practice begins Aug. 7.”
West Virginia opens the 2020 season on Sept. 5 against Florida State at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta.
For the limited number of teams — Marshall included — that play in Week Zero, that timeline is bumped up a week, but done so with the stipulation that the program has to take an additional seven days off during its 2020 season to maintain competitive balance and keep the number of practice days for teams even.
Wednesday’s ruling means that Marshall will start its first summer access period (eight hours) on July 6 with the second segment (20 hours allowed) beginning July 17. Marshall’s preseason practice schedule begins July 31 in anticipation for its first game, which is Aug. 29 at East Carolina.
“We go seven days back from the NCAA’s announced date,” Hamrick said. “That’s when we can start our mandatory workouts. Right now, everything is voluntary. Once it’s mandatory, our coaches can be around our players more, and that’s critical as we start the summer access period.”
Just as the NCAA is finalizing its summer and preseason practice schedule for college football, many states have returned to normal operation, which has produced a spike in COVID-19 cases across the United States.
While Wednesday’s decision paints a definitive timeline of when things could start in terms of the 2020 college football season, Lyons pointed out last week that the situation involving COVID-19 is still fluid, meaning the NCAA and its various committees have a watchful eye while working with local and state authorities as plans toward a season move forward.
Member schools understood the fluidity of the process and responded with an overwhelming support of getting football back on the field as soon as possible — even if that meant some schools or states are not ready to go when the season starts.
“I think there is more clarity as we move down those paths, but it’s been a challenge and there are still a lot of hypotheticals that are out there — and I don’t think any of us like hypotheticals — but I think one thing COVID-19 has taught us is that we have to try to address hypotheticals and have game plans in place, in case it does change,” Lyons said. “It’s been challenging, but it’s been rewarding at the same time to at least come up with something that we all agree upon and we can work through to get football started again.”