NCAA lifts facility ban starting June 1; Utah planning limited opening

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Alfonso Plummer at University of Utah basketball practice in Salt Lake City on Wednesday Sept. 25, 2019. Utah and other Pac-12 athletes may be allowed to start using the school's practice and training facilities again on June 1.

The NCAA has taken a significant step toward football being played this fall, potentially with an on-time start.

The college sports governing body’s Division I Council on Wednesday voted to approve voluntary athletic activities in football as well as men’s and women’s basketball from June 1 through June 30. The Division I Council is expected to address the status of other sports inside the next week.

There had been a nationwide moratorium on in-person workouts in place through May 31. On March 30, the Pac-12 echoed the NCAA by extending its suspension of in-person athletics-related activities to May 31. The league has not yet officially weighed in on Wednesday’s news, and how it moves forward from here warrants attention.

The Pac-12 presidents are expected to decide next week whether or not to lift its ban. The league could opt to extend its ban, but the more-likely scenario will see the Pac-12 leave decisions on limited reopening in the hands of its individual members, who would have to act in consultation with medical, government and university officials.

Pac-12 schools are spread across six states, which are at varying degrees of social-distancing and stay-at-home mandates. It is not out of the question that a school like Utah could be ready to go with limited access on June 1, while schools in California, home to some of the most aggressive stay-at-home guidelines, are not.

Oregon and Oregon State are at the mercy of Gov. Kate Brown, who would need to modify an executive order, allowing gyms and fitness centers on college campuses to be used as part of Phase 1 of the state’s reopening plan.

“Within the Pac-12 Conference, there is a general feeling that should be allowed, even though some schools will not be able to do that based on their footprint, but also knowing to block another schools’ ability to do that if they’re able doesn’t make a lot of sense,” Utah athletic director Mark Harlan said last week on 700 AM. “That’s a big one that’s coming that might seem small potatoes to everybody, but for our coaches and for our students, it’s a really big deal.”

There had been growing optimism at the University of Utah in recent weeks about facilities opening on a limited basis and a June 1 return. Harlan said as much last week, while football coach Kyle Whittingham and men’s basketball coach Larry Krystkowiak shared in Harlan’s optimism.

According to Harlan, his athletic department’s initial planning called for opening facilities to athletes living locally. If that went smoothly, opening athletic facilities to out-of-state athletes would be the next step, potentially after two or three weeks.

Utah’s specific plans in terms of safety measures inside athletic facilities, how many athletes can use a facility at once, and ramped-up COVID-19 testing measures are currently unknown.

To that end, as Harlan alluded to last week, Utah would be in good shape. Most of the state moved from a moderate “orange” risk level to a lower “yellow” risk level on Saturday, although Salt Lake City, where Utah’s campus and athletic facilities are located, remains at orange.