The NCAA is clearing the way for college football, men's basketball and women's basketball to resume on-campus activities on June 1, even as universities map out how they might return to a new normal during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Many schools are also facing a sharp drop in revenue that would be made far worse if the upcoming college football season is canceled.
The NCAA Division I Council says college athletes can take part in "voluntary athletics activities" such as workouts in less than two weeks, as long as they can also follow any local restrictions meant to slow the spread of the coronavirus, such as limits on building capacities and physical distancing. Each school and conference will be free to decide how to safely resume athletic operations, the council said.
The new provision applies to voluntary on-campus workouts, not regular practices. It also says football and basketball players, not coaches, must initiate the activity.
"Coaches may not be present unless a sport-specific safety exception allows it, and activity cannot be directed by a coach or reported back to a coach," the council says in a statement about the decision.
Council chair M. Grace Calhoun, the athletics director at the University of Pennsylvania, says the move "acknowledges that reopening our campuses will be an individual decision but should be based on advice from medical experts."
Months after the coronavirus forced the cancellation of this year's March Madness basketball tournaments and other championships, thousands of schools are now laying out plans for shortened semesters. The virus and its economic toll have forced some colleges to scale back athletic schedules, or cut programs altogether.
Earlier this week, Furman University in South Carolina eliminated its baseball and lacrosse programs, citing a string of coronavirus-related losses that range from millions of dollars in refunded fees, the cancelation of camps and conferences, new technology costs – and a $100 million drop in the value of the private school's endowment.
Many schools and conferences are forming plans to follow safety rules while also continue holding football games – a huge revenue source or colleges and the NCAA. If the 2020-21 season doesn't take place, the 65 schools that make up the Power 5 conferences would lose more than $4 billion, according to a recent analysis reported by ESPN.