Around the Big Ten: How are different schools handling COVID-19?
Several different Big Ten schools are handling the COVID-19 situation differently. Multiple publishers from the Rivals.com network gave their take on what's going on.
How many guys stayed back and how many went home? Are the weight rooms still open for small groups to use? What kind of food services are still being provided on campus? In what ways are their coaching staff still trying to recruit? What is each school's best-case scenario outlook? Could we see June spring practices?
All of these topics were addressed here from 13 different Big Ten publishers.
"Nebraska gave all of their football players the option to stay or go home. It was completely up to how each guy wanted to handle it based on their own personal situations. They continued training table services on a take-out basis only. Last week, the weight room was open for small groups and then heavily sanitized after they were done. However, on Thursday I was told the weight room was officially shut down. This week was supposed to be UNL's spring break before the shutdown happened.
"Nebraska’s coaching staff continues to do what they can to recruit, as kids are very easy to reach right now. Their other big priority is setting up some sort of online meeting software so the team can take part in interactive meetings to go over the offense and defense. Nobody knows where this is going to all go, but the optimistic thought right now is maybe you can have spring practices in June and the newcomers will be involved in those as well. You have to think the NCAA is going to be flexible with this once or if we get to that point. Before the shutdown, Nebraska was able to complete two spring practices."
"Purdue's immediate response was to sort of shut things down, as I'm sure was the case a lot of other places. This coincided with the university's spring break and those who went home were told that they should only return to campus if they have a very specific reason they need to be on campus, whether it's recovery from injury, academic support, food or whatever. Purdue has gone online for classes the rest of the semester, so the athletes who went home for spring break can take care of their academics from there.
"Those who are on campus won't have access to athletic facilities through April 6, as Purdue has shut down its weight rooms, etc., indefinitely, and that order at Purdue went into place before the state of Indiana issued what amounted to a stay-at-home order.
"I know that coaches and staff have been encouraged to work remotely as much as they can. Coaches have been encouraged to keep in constant contact with their athletes who are off-campus, to get creative in recruiting and to work on things that they might not otherwise have had time to work on."
"On March 12, the University of Wisconsin announced it would suspend in-person classes for at least three weeks. And just last week, it was decided that all instruction and exams would remain online through the end of the spring semester. With those parameters in place, the vast majority of student-athletes on the Badgers’ current roster are at home, according to a spokesman from the athletic department. With the exception of sports medicine and mental health services, all facilities on campus are closed. That includes training tables and fueling stations. Monday, Wisconsin Governor Tony Evers ordered non-essential businesses to close statewide in response to COVID-19. The Badgers did not participate in any spring practices prior to (or since) the announcement on March 12.
"On the recruiting front, things have been pretty quiet. No new offers have been extended, but Wisconsin did receive a recent commitment from linebacker Jake Chaney in the 2021 class. UW also benefited from two big junior days (Feb. 1 and March 1) prior to recruiting being suspended on campus."
"The state of Illinois is on a shelter in place order due to the COVID-19 outbreak, so naturally, the campus at the University of Illinois is shut down and all of the sports facilities are closed. Like most of the rest of the student body, Illinois athletes went home for spring break and never returned. The dorms are closed but accommodations are being made for international students and others who can’t practically go home during the epidemic. Students are continuing the spring semester with online classes.
"The cancellation of spring sports presents an array of challenges for the football coaching staff, including ensuring offseason workouts continue. Without structured workouts and the facilities on campus, the Illini have an entirely different challenge in building the strength needed to climb that ladder in the Big Ten. Assuredly, strength coach Lou Hernandez will send workout schedules. Then it’s up to the Illini to motivate themselves to push as hard as if coach Lou was in the room.
"Recruiting completely changes under these conditions and the NCAA-mandated emergency dead period. These Illini recruiters can talk the talk, especially on those recruiting trips back to St. Louis and Chicago. But what happens when they can’t leave campus? More importantly, what happens when the Illini can’t show off the new digs at the Smith Football Performance Center? In the arms race known as college football facilities, Illinois’ might be the newest and perhaps the most impressive in the Midwest. A ban on recruiting visits on campus will force Illini coaches, like others elsewhere, to be more innovative.
"Big Ten football is going more digital. Social media platforms are becoming more valuable with growing budgets. Coaches are working FaceTime with recruits. Virtual tours of facilities and campus are a hot topic."
- Doug Buschon
Iowa had not started spring practice when the University was shut down due to the COVID-19 Virus. They had just concluded their winter workout program and spring break took place last week. Student-athletes were encouraged to stay home and not return to campus, which most have done. Currently, campus facilities are closed to students, except for medical needs.
In-person classes have been canceled and students will complete the semester via online instruction. Really undetermined as to if there will be any sort of organized team activities in June.
As far as recruiting, Iowa has been in touch with recruits and extended a few new offers. They hope to still have their big spring recruiting event in late June, but right now that is TBD.
Northwestern was fortunate to complete eight spring practices before the school was shut down on March 12. The Wildcats have officially missed only one practice, which was scheduled for March 14. The players and coaching staff were supposed to be off last week and this week, anyway, for finals and spring break.
The state of Illinois was put under a stay-at-home order on March 21 that will last at least until April 7. An athletic department spokesperson said that virtually all Wildcat athletes have gone back to their hometowns. Academic advisors, trainers and strength coaches have all been in regular touch with athletes to make sure they have workout plans wherever they are. Obviously, with virtually all gyms closed, athletes will have to be creative to figure out ways to work out at home, but the strength staff is confident that they will manage to get it done.
The university extended spring break by one week and announced that the first three weeks of the spring academic quarter will be conducted remotely, so the earliest that students will be back on campus is April 27. Northwestern president Morty Schapiro is expected to announce future plans for the university on or around April 17.
The coronavirus and the NCAA-implemented dead period haven’t really slowed down NU football recruiting activity. The Wildcats landed offensive lineman Josh Thompson of Fenton (Mich.) on Tuesday and have offered several 2021 prospects over the last couple weeks.
"Right now the State of New Jersey is in full quarantine mode, with restaurants (only open for take out) and bars, gyms, movie theaters, etc. all closed down for the time being.
"As for the Rutgers Football team, most guys are either home or in the process of moving back home. All of their classwork will now take place remotely for the rest of the semester and every on-campus event, including graduation, has been canceled. In regards to the weight room, it has been closed, but some players who are still on campus, have been able to mess around with the football a little bit over the past couple days or so. At the moment, fans are seeing a lot of the players on social media doing personal workouts, working with trainers on the side and most recently holding positional meetings via video apps such as skype and zoom.
"When it comes to recruiting, the Rutgers staff has still been working the phones nonstop. Covid-19 seems to be helping Greg Schiano and his staff on the trail, especially with in-state kids. A lot of them have moved up their commitment dates as they are now looking to stay closer to home to be near their families. Rutgers has picked up four commitments since 3/18, three of which were from in-state kids. They are also in a good spot with a handful of others who could make a decision in the coming weeks.
"As for what’s next, the school doesn’t really know what to think. It’s basically a wait and see approach. Ideally, the staff would love to be out there as soon as possible, but with everything being the way it is, no one really knows when football will return to normal."
"Penn State’s players and coaches are at home. According to athletic director Sandy Barbour during a podcast appearance last week, of Penn State’s 800+ student-athletes, ~25 remain living in their on-campus accommodations while another ~45 have stayed in their off-campus living situations. Medical and academic support also remains, but the university has gone completely to remote learning through the rest of the semester, and social media posts all make clear that Penn State has largely disbanded for the indefinite future.
"That doesn’t mean that the football operation has stopped, though. If anything, with a limited framework to go by in terms of recruiting restrictions and protocol, Penn State has seemed to take the approach that this is an opportunity to differentiate from everyone else. Whether that’s through social media and a constant presence in that realm, or through other means, the reality here is that among the few controllables anymore is the ability to maximize the work that you do.
"For as much as that encompasses recruiting, which has obviously demonstrated nation-wide that it never stops even through a global pandemic, it also pertains to Penn State’s current players. Within the first day of remote learning, players were posting videos of themselves conducting workouts and individual drills. Who knows where this thing goes from here, but two things stand out about the present situation: First, this thing will eventually pass. And second, when it does, the question for everyone is going to be about how much they maximized this time."
"The state of Ohio has been ahead of the curve in many regards in relation to restrictions of groups of 10 or more, building closures and other emergency measures under Governor Mike DeWine. With that being said, the football offices have been closed for some time now, there is no access to any of the workout facilities in the WHAC or even a public gym under recent closures.
"Members of the football team have been urged to either return home or to their off-campus accommodations as all dorms have been closed at Ohio State. That means that student-athletes are spread out all over the country and we have seen several go-to social media in one form or another showing where they are at this time of crisis.
"Recruiting has not been a concern for Ohio State however during this time, even with the suspension of both off-campus coaching visits as well as on-campus recruit visits. Ohio State landed four recruits within a 72-hour period recently and could be on the verge of a couple more big names during this national shutdown. Fortunately for Ohio State, the Buckeyes have been aggressive through the years of getting players down for junior days and things of that nature and there is already a familiarity with many of these players and the Ohio State staff. But we are also seeing players who have never been on campus pulling the trigger for Ohio State as well, a true indication of what a strong job the coaches have done to connect not only with these players but their families as well to earn a pledge somewhat ‘sight unseen’.
"There really is not a prevailing thought as to what is going to be next, when things are going to re-open and resume even on a limited schedule. As I said earlier, Ohio has been one of the more aggressive states in terms of the timelines of some of the shutdowns and while there is not an official Shelter-In-Place order, I don’t expect to see Ohio being the first state to open things up when an all-clear is sounded. This will either end up with some sort of potential June “spring practice” session or if more time is needed, maybe an elongated July session that rolls right into fall camp. A lot of unknowns currently and very few answers."
"Michigan State’s football program resides in a state that officially adopted a “Stay Home, Stay Safe” order on March 23. Michigan State coaches have been communicating via Zoom with players individually and collectively since the university ended face-to-face classes and meetings on March 13
"Position coaches have conducted group meetings via Zoom, as new head coach Mel Tucker and his staff work to install their playbook.
"Players were encouraged to go to their permanent homes of residence beginning on March 13. An exact number of players who stayed in East Lansing is not available, but it’s believed to be a low count.
"The athletic weight rooms were closed on March 13. MSU’s academic support center was open for tutorials until the “Stay Home, Stay Safe” order was issued. It is now closed. The option of online tutorials started the week of March 16. All tutorial support for players is now being conducted online.
"Residence halls are still open for food (carry-out only). There are no organized team meals at this time.
"The coaching staff is recruiting through phone calls and social media. Under Tucker, Michigan State has issued many more early scholarship offers to out-of-state juniors than was customarily the case under Mark Dantonio."
In Ann Arbor, all competitions and practices have officially been canceled through April 21, associate Athletic Director Kurt Svoboda said March 24.
"Anything after that will be decided upon in the future,” he added. "Right now, April 21 is the date that is on the books.”
The university announced March 12 it had terminated the remainder of its winter and spring sports seasons, with the NCAA revealing that senior athletes who fell into the latter category would be allowed to return next season across the country. Currently, U-M student-athletes are not even being allowed into Michigan's athletic buildings. Signs have been placed on all the doors around campus clearly prohibiting access.
“We did our best to attend every single team meeting to provide support on the spot during the grieving process,” Abigail Eiler, a professor in the school of Social Work, said.
The athletes, meanwhile have found various ways to train on their own, U-M Senior Associate AD and Chief Health and Welfare Officer Darryl Conway said. The various strength and conditioning coaches of U-M's sports teams are still working with their athletes from afar, and presenting them with workouts to do from home.
“Our strength coaches have worked hard to develop home exercise programs for them," Conway said. "It’s amazing what you can do with bodyweight, a simple can of soup or a textbook, or different items from a pantry or in your house. You can lift various things in and around your garage as well. We’ve been sending out rehab packs to student-athletes, so some have received recovery machines in order to help them with strength training.
"Our strength coaches are very good at devising ways to get things done. Student-athletes can still go outside, and there are always things around the house like bricks, tires and cinder blocks you can use."
Michigan student-athletes will also be taking their classes online for the next six months, something that has not been an option at the university until now.
"The coronavirus caught Indiana at a fairly vulnerable time, after David Ballou and Matt Rhea left Indiana’s strength and conditioning program to run the show in Tuscaloosa. A week later, on March 8, news broke of the Hoosiers hiring former New York Giants strength coach Aaron Wellman as their next strength and conditioning coach. Four days later, the Big Ten tournament was canceled, and shortly after, the campus facilities were closed along with the cancelation of spring seasons and the rest of the in-person classes at Indiana.
"Wellman said during his introductory press conference Tuesday that he is “meeting individuals where they are,” in terms of how to keep them in shape and improving physically, particularly in the case of redshirt sophomore quarterback Mike Penix, when not only are on-campus facilities closed and players are at their homes but also when gyms are closed in general. He, and the limited staff who are leftover from Ballou’s staff since Wellman has not had time to hire his own staff yet, have assessed each player’s equipment at home and put together case-by-case workouts for each of them to do before hitting campus again.
"For recruiting, Indiana just squeezed in its second junior day on March 7 and hosted a couple key quarterback prospects in the days leading up to COVID-19’s peak effect on collegiate sports. Indiana had a wildly successful junior day in late-January for a historically impressive 2021 in-state class, and its March junior day was focused on key out-of-state prospects. This class is going to be extremely small for Indiana as well, so if there was a year for these events to take place during Indiana Football recruiting, this was the optimal year.
"As far as keeping his team’s morale high, Tom Allen has really been pushing the mantra “We don’t blink.” It’s obviously a cliched phrase in some regards, but Allen pulled it from his days at Ole Miss when he wanted to bring back the landshark tradition around 2014. He researched sharks and discovered that they don’t blink. With all of the losses Indiana has suffered this offseason, this phrase has defined the way he wants his players to approach 2020, including throughout all of this COVID-19 madness."
"Maryland students, including many football players, have essentially been away from campus since the start of the coronavirus pandemic due to the timing matching up with the school’s spring break. The university’s initial response was to extend spring break and have students complete coursework online for several weeks. But things quickly changed and the campus has since been shut down for the remainder of the semester.
"Spring football was originally set to begin after spring break on March 24, so to that point, not a whole lot has changed. But now as players would normally be preparing to put the pads on for spring practices, instead they are looking for ways to remain in shape and work on their conditioning away from campus and at home.
"The coronavirus has also hit Maryland Athletics specifically, as a person who is contracted part-time by both the University Health Center and the athletics department learned on March 20 that they had tested positive for the virus. This person had been in close contact with both student-athletes and athletics staff, according to athletics director Damon Evans. Given this fact, it is likely Maryland will use extra precaution when making future decisions about when and how to get all of the various sports back up and running again.
"As for football recruiting, Maryland continues to hit the phones hard and put out offers. Obviously, in-person recruiting is no longer happening, but the staff continues to build relationships via other ways, including phone calls and social media."