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Sports

University of Illinois announces plans for student-athletes to return to campus June 3

Illinois quarterback Brandon Peters passes during the first half of an NCAA college football game against Rutgers, Saturday, Nov. 2, 2019, in Champaign.
Illinois quarterback Brandon Peters passes during the first half of an NCAA college football game against Rutgers, Saturday, Nov. 2, 2019, in Champaign.

The University of Illinois still hasn’t determined whether in-person classes will resume in the fall, but student-athletes will be returning to campus within two weeks.

The state’s flagship, Big Ten university will bring student-athletes back to the Urbana-Champaign campus for voluntary summer training beginning June 3.

Student-athletes will stagger their arrivals, according to a plan released Friday by the university’s Division of Intercollegiate Athletics. It follows a timeline recently announced by the NCAA, which allows voluntary workouts to resume on campuses June 1. Illinois said its plans mirror those of other Big Ten universities.

The plan includes “robust testing” and initial periods of quarantine. Football and men’s basketball players will arrive first over a series of days in early June.

The first workouts in football and men’s basketball will likely occur in the second or third week of June. There will be symptom checks and entry screenings at facilities, certain procedures for locker rooms, showers and laundry, guidance on groups sizes, and rules regarding equipment usage and cleaning.

According to the NCAA, all football and basketball workouts in June must be voluntary. The Illinois athletic department said it will stand by student-athletes who decline to participate, and will provide contact information for campus resources should anyone feel pressured to participate by coaches.

“[The athletic department] recognizes that the University has made no official decisions about a return to in-person instruction for the fall,” it said in a statement. “Similarly, no final decisions have been forthcoming regarding fall sports. Nonetheless, in anticipation that both school and sports, in some form or fashion, will occur in the fall, the early return of student-athletes to campus is necessary to provide them the opportunity to regain acceptable physical condition prior to engaging in competition. While away, most of them have lacked access to the facilities, equipment, and coaching needed to maintain their physical readiness for the rigors of high-major Division I athletics.”

Illinois' plan was created in collaboration with the Champaign-Urbana Public Health District, Carle physicians, McKinley Health Center, SHIELD (the university’s committee tasked with developing testing protocols) and the Big Ten.

“The return protocol includes initial and ongoing viral and antibody testing, initial quarantining, contact tracing, and arrangements for extended quarantine and care of any student-athlete testing positive for COVID-19,” a statement from the athletic department said.

Student-athletes on the women’s basketball, volleyball and soccer teams will return to campus by early July. The athletic department will evaluate whether more student-athletes from other sports could return to campus as the summer progresses.

The college athletics landscape this fall remains an unknown. Professional leagues such as the MLB, NBA and NHL are still formulating their plans for return. Only within the past few weeks did certain NBA teams open training facilities for their players.

The Illini football team is scheduled to open its season Sept. 4 against Illinois State. But college football, with such a wide variety of schools over a huge geographic area, could look different in 2020.

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