Pittman Hopeful for Summer Return

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Arkansas head football coach Sam Pittman admits that “nobody knows” right now what will happen to the 2020 college football season but he sees hopeful signs that the current situation will begin to change by the summer.

Repeating what he told Paul Finebaum on the SEC Network last week, Pittman told the Pig Trail Nation, “We’ve stated that there is a strong possibility that we’re going to open the dorms (at the University of Arkansas) by June 29.” Pittman went on to point out that the date mentioned is not set in stone and could be pushed back, adding, “I get that. I’m not a doctor. That’s not my job. My job is, if we do open the dorms on the 29th and we starting practicing, to be ready to practice.”

Pittman is not the only one associated with college football to mention a possible start up of practices by early or mid summer. In an article posted on April 20 titled, “How college football will address its most difficult undertaking yet: safely starting the 2020 season,” CBS college football writer Dennis Dodd referred to a conversation he had with current ACC commissioner Mike Aresco who said that a “consensus” is forming around a July 15 return to formal in-person, on-campus workouts. That would give teams starting in Week Zero (Aug. 29) slightly more than six weeks to get ready.

Included in that six week time frame would be a period of conditioning to get players ready for the start of preseason practices. Throw in the loss of traditional spring football in March and April and it could be difficult to have players fully prepared for the start of the season in early September. Dodd pointed out that there’s a possible solution. Referring to, “the largest collaboration between coaches and training/medical staff in college football’s history,” Dodd revealed that a number of plans are being considered to “safely — and quickly — prepare the sport for an on-time start to the 2020 season.”

One of those plans would involve bringing back two-a-day practices which were banned in 2017 because of studies that showed an increase in concussions when teams practiced twice daily. But new data indicates that the number of head injuries did not decline after the ban. Dodd quotes Brian Hainline, the NCAA’s chief medical officer, as saying, “We have so much more data now, catastrophic injury data. There may be imaginative ways to move into that world (a compressed preseason calendar) if need be.” Specifically one of the two daily practices could be without pads and no hitting involved.

Pittman likes the sound of that.

“If they decided to let us do two-a days,” Pittman speculated, “I think the coaches would enjoy it. I think the players would enjoy it. That’s certainly a way to amp up conditioning.”

Pittman went on to point out that some people have the idea with one daily preseason practice the players are free to go home when the workout ends. Actually, he said, there are meetings and other activities that take up as much time as an extra workout. “If you ask the players the issue with them is how much time they spend at the athletic complex. Eliminating one of the practices doesn’t change that,” Pittman said.

According to Dodd some college strength and conditioning coaches believe the possible late June, early July start up that Pittman mentioned is needed in order to have players ready for the season. But Dodd writes that several college head football coaches, including Oklahoma’s Lincoln Riley, have said they could get their teams ready to go with a start up as late as early August, with 15 to 20 practices before the season opener.

There are a number of challenges to making the 2020 college football season happen including the fact that different states will be opening back up at different times. There’s also a huge issue of some universities possibly opening up for summer or fall classes while others might continue current online-only classes.

Still, Dodd quotes Hainline as saying, “I’m cautiously optimistic we can get a season in. I look at New York as an example. The city was decimated, but we are actually starting to see some light.”

ESPN/ABC college football analyst Kirk Herbstreit is now walking back comments he made in late March indicating that he would be “shocked” if there were a college football season considering the impact of the COVID-19 Virus. Herbstreit now says he was just “thinking out loud” when he made that observation and he believes everything is being done to avoid such a scenario. That includes a possible college football campaign in the spring. “They’re going to do everything they can if it comes to that extreme to be able to potentially have a 2020 season,” he said on a conference call Monday.

To Pittman all of the possible scenarios under discussion give hope to his players who are currently scattered and able to prepare for a return to practices via video conferencing only. That’s the reason he says he contacted them after hearing about the possible June 29 date.

“I told our players, ‘Hey, the dorms open on June 29th,’ ” Pittman recalled, “Let’s get ready to go. It gives them hope but also a sense of urgency to come back in shape. We’ve said we’re going to do a test to see what kind of condition you’re in and that was just a little bit more of a push to say, ‘Hey you better get off of that couch.’ “

“What’s wrong with hope?” Pittman continued. “We’re not selling falsehoods here. Nobody knows (for sure on a start up date) but why can’t we say, “This is what I heard. It’s positive. Let’s sell it.’ ”

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