By Steve Lansdale
AUSTIN, Texas — Like coaches, players and fans across the country, Tom Herman would like nothing better than to be planning the Texas football team’s preseason camp. He would love to be scripting practices, determining which drills will be done when, and starting to determine who might replace last year’s seniors and even brainstorming about lineups and depth charts.
Instead, like everyone tied to just about any sport at any level, Herman finds himself in a holding pattern. The novel coronavirus pandemic has altered life in more ways than can be counted, bringing a halt to virtually all sports. A few, like some international soccer leagues or the golf match Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson, Peyton Manning and Tom Brady played to raise money for COVID-19 relief, have been played, but for the most part, the sports landscape remains quiet.
In a recent interview with Longhorn Network’s Lowell Galindo, Herman admitted that waiting game has been trying.
“Not well,” he said when asked how he’s managing the break from his normal offseason routine. “I try to have calendars and schedules planned out a couple months ahead of time, and I can’t even make the schedule for June because I don’t know what it’s going to look like.”
The NCAA released a “resocialization plan” under which student-athletes could return to their campuses to begin training for the upcoming season once guidelines, both personal and institutional, are met.
“What the NCAA is done, is said (that) it’s fine by them if we (bring back student-athletes) by June 1,” Herman said. “‘Now you conferences, at the conference level, you guys figure out what’s best for you.’ Basically, the NCAA has said, ‘hey, we’re good with whatever you guys decide’ … and now it’s up to the conference level to figure out … you know, because each conference has, you know, a multiple-state footprint, and each state and local governments are different, so I would expect … for the next however many weeks, you’re going to see some discrepancy within conferences as to what is permissible and what’s not, depending on the severity of the states within their footprint and how hard they’ve been hit.
When the campus shut down in response to the virus, student-athletes dispersed. Many stayed in the Austin area, but many others headed elsewhere to stay with family or friends. So bringing them back to campus, Herman said, is more complex than merely sending out an e-mail and assuming university life will go back to normal. Initially, housing arrangements have to be coordinated for those athletes who will not have immediate access to dormitories, and the Longhorns will need to go through offseason strength and conditioning workouts before considering a return to the practice field, whenever that ends up being allowed.
“‘Back on campus’ is a broad term,” Herman said. “I think the biggest hope right now is that by the middle of June, we at least can open our weight room doors for the guys that are here, in the Austin area, which for us is roughly about 60 guys. So that’s a good thing. We’re not going to have the dorms, it doesn’t look like, for our on-campus guys as well as our summer enrollees.
“What we’ve been told is, hopefully, by the middle of June, we can at least open our weight room doors and allow our guys to have their voluntary lifts within our weight room, itself, and monitored by our strength and conditioning staff. Not coached — monitored for safety … as well as our athletic training staff. We do want to get these guys assessed from a physical health standpoint, in terms of physicals and bloodwork and all that good stuff … and then get these on-campus guys and the newcomers here as fast as the dorms will allow us to move them in.”
With the NCAA and the Big 12 Conference both making statements indicating at least the possibility of student-athletes returning to campuses and ultimately preparing for the upcoming seasons. With that in mind, Herman is balancing the need to help the program navigate these uncharted waters while still keeping an eye on the season opener against South Florida.
“Oh, yeah, yeah, yeah,” he said when asked if he thinks it still will be a while before the Longhorns reconvene in any form of team-related workout or training. “All of this stuff is still discretionary or voluntary or whatever you want to call it, so we won’t have all 115 guys together until … who knows? I’m guessing … we’re hopeful first of July, but I think more realistically, middle of July to give us that six-week acclimatization period-slash-training camp to get ready for Sept. 5.”