ASU Football Taking Shape with “Return to Play” Plan

Montgomery, Ala.- As we move closer to the fall semester, one of the biggest concerns on the list was would on-campus instruction and collegiate athletics take place, and if so, what action would need to be taken to work as safely as possible. Now, we have both of those questions answered. 

    On June 26, ASU President Quinton T. Ross, Jr. announced the plan for the student body to return to Montgomery with a 26-page plan detailing the procedures and guidelines put in place for safety, including a reopening plan with three phases, providing safety kits with PPE, and requiring students to wear a mask at all times while on campus. Without this plan, the chances of playing fall sports would be nearly impossible since NCAA Commissioner Mark Emmert said no sports would be allowed if schools remained closed.

    Learning that students will be allowed on campus changed the narrative from “if” fall sports would happen to “how” fall sports would happen. The “how” was answered when the ASU Department of Intercollegiate Athletics released their Return to Play plan.

    The plan is 36 pages long and provides a lot of details covering the actions taking place before returning to campus, guidelines put in place when players reach campus, how to take care of facilities and equipment, and a bevy of other important details. You can read the full report here, but here are some of the things to know from the report:

  • The Return to Play plan was put together by a committee spearheaded by athletic director Jennifer Lynne Williams and Director of Sports Medicine Patrick Peagler
  • The plan has a set of athletes arriving every Sunday starting July 12, until the week of August 3 when several teams arrive within the week and the winter and spring sports move in between August 8 and August 15
  • Masks will be worn at all times except for involvement in physical activity
  • Student-athletes will have their temperature routinely checked
  • Meals will be served in a “to-go” format and “sports nutrition products” (i.e. protein bars, shakes, etc.) and drink stations will be used with the least amount of contact possible

Alabama State has taken a lot of precautions for its students and student-athletes, and though it will not be the traditional college experience, it brings optimism to know that the “new normal” is upon us. Unfortunately, the controlled environment that will be the ASU campus has an enormous obstacle to keep in mind: the city of Montgomery itself.

In Alabama, Montgomery County is currently second in total confirmed cases, third in deaths, and first in population density, meaning it is a lot of positive cases compared to the population. The virus shows no signs of slowing down locally or statewide, as the number have been on the rise as other states have plateaued and have started declining..

The numbers are clear, but what most people do not know is the layout of the campus. ASU’s campus is open; the roads are blocked off after hours, but anyone could walk on campus any time of day or night, and students could walk off campus just as easily. There is also a street that runs by campus, and students often frequent the barbershop, convenience store or food truck located there. 

What also must be considered is how to operate in the stadium. The athletic department said in an article released on July 2 that they will listen to university and government officials regarding social distancing, including temperature checks before entry and decreased capacity in the stadium. That is great, but now that opens the question of who can attend. Do the students, who attend for free, get priority, or do patrons who purchase tickets get taken care of first? This won’t be much of an issue every week since the attendance isn’t great, but for Labor Day Classic, Turkey Day Classic and homecoming, the athletic department will have some tough decisions to make.

This is not to say that restrictions should be placed on where students can travel to, because doing so would create more problems than solve them, This is to say that the students and the athletes are people of the community, and knowing the state of the community and its residents, the likelihood of something happening cannot be ignored.

The cautious optimism is felt throughout Hornet Nation, and though the circumstances are not ideal, we are excited for the return of students to campus, and athletes back on the field. Let us hope the season is both exciting and safe 

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