The Big 12 announced Friday that football players can return to campuses for voluntary workouts on June 15 as part of a phased return to activities.
The league's board of directors approved a three-phase plan, with other fall sports athletes (cross country, soccer, volleyball) allowed to return for voluntary workouts July 1 and all other athletes eligible to return July 15.
The Big 12 had suspended all athletic activities through May 31 because of the coronavirus pandemic. That moratorium remains in effect until it expires. The NCAA's Division I Council on Wednesday voted to lift the national moratorium for on-campus athletic activities for football and men's and women's basketball athletes starting June 1. On Friday, the council expanded that to all sports.
Conferences have taken different approaches thus far. The SEC on Friday said it will allow voluntary football workouts beginning June 8; the Big Ten is not expected to make a league-wide announcement on a return, leaving the decision to individual schools.
Texas governor Greg Abbott, whose state is home to four of the 10 schools in the Big 12, told KXAN-TV in Austin, Texas, on Friday that he believes the season will start as scheduled with fans in the stands.
"Once we get to college football season, our goal right now is to have college football season start as planned, with fans in stands," Abbott said. "What we don't know is what the capacity level would be."
Texas athletic director Chris Del Conte told ESPN earlier this month that he was optimistic about the season starting on time and being completed uninterrupted. In a statement on Friday, Del Conte said the Longhorns will be prepared for the beginning of voluntary activities. They already have begun allowing coaches back in the offices but did so with a detailed 48-page protocol that mandated screening for all coaches before arrival, temperature checks and mandatory masks while in the building, according to the Austin American-Statesman.
"We remain optimistic and are continuing to plan for football this season, and this is another positive step towards preparing for that," Del Conte said. "We were able to get some of our football coaches and staff in the offices this week, and all went well with the health and safety measures we put into place for that. We've also been working on plans, procedures and health and safety measures in order to get student-athletes on campus. Given the approval today by the Big 12 and our campus that we can bring football student-athletes back for voluntary workouts with our strength and conditioning staff on June 15, the wheels are now fully in motion to begin preparations for that."
Last week, Oklahoma coach Lincoln Riley told reporters on a video conference that "I definitely think we'll play," and that it was just a matter of when. When discussing a potential June 1 return date for players -- which had been discussed in the SEC before Friday's announcement -- Riley called it "one of the most ridiculous things I have heard," stressing that "we have to be patient. We'll get one good shot at it to bring them back when we're prepared and know as much about this as we possibly can."
Before the Big 12's announcement Friday night, Oklahoma athletic director Joe Castiglione told SportsTalk 1400 AM in Oklahoma earlier in the day that he didn't feel pressured to bring players back in early June even if schools in other leagues were doing the same.
"One can argue that there are advantages for getting the student-athletes back on campus as soon as possible, but there are also risks," Castiglione said. "And in our minds, as we consistently listen to the medical experts we've been talking about for weeks and weeks now, we don't believe we are at a point yet where the positives outweigh any of the risks. In fact, it's quite the opposite. In our mind, the risks far outweigh any of the positive gain we might have for those few weeks."
Baylor athletic director Mack Rhoades expressed excitement over the Big 12's announcement and said his program has worked to develop "a comprehensive plan to support the safe return of our student-athletes, coaches, and staff."
"We will remain diligent in monitoring our various safety procedures and protocols to ensure a healthy and safe environment as we continue to navigate through this pandemic," Rhoades said.