FARGO — The boys are back in town, at least in the North Dakota State weight training facility. Bison football players will be allowed to begin voluntary workouts starting Monday at the Sanford Health Athletic Complex.
It’s considered the first stage of athletic programs returning to some sense of normalcy with the COVID-19 pandemic that has shut down campuses across the country. NDSU is phasing its workouts by sport beginning with football next week followed by women’s volleyball and soccer on June 8.
The men’s and women’s basketball teams will be allowed back on June 15.
The university had to give final approval to the plan after the NCAA Division I Council gave the OK last week.
“It’s all subject to change based on how things go,” said NDSU athletic director Matt Larsen. “Then we’ll look to see where the state is with their numbers and any adjustments we have to make to athletic facilities. Then we’ll get some of our winter and spring sports involved with voluntary workouts.”
NDSU football players will only be allowed to use the weight training center and the academic center at the SHAC. They’ll be separated into small groups, although the weight room is big enough where the strength staff can use more than one small group at a time. The first one is set to go at 5:15 a.m.
Facilities like the outdoor practice fields will be off limits for now.
“Many of our players have found creative ways to stay active from remote locations,” said head coach Matt Entz, “but they also miss being with teammates and having more structure and ability for complete workouts. Having access to our own weight room will provide some of those opportunities and I know our strength and conditioning staff is eager to get started.”
The staff is led by veteran coach Jim Kramer and he’s assisted in football by former Bison player Eric Perkins.
Larsen called getting the players back together is vital for their physical development, but just as important, if not more, for their mental health.
“Just to get back to some normal routine,” Larsen said. “We’re in a position where we have a really good plan and the state has started opening some things up. We still have to be really smart and make sure we follow our plan to the letter.”
That includes players having their temperature taken every day and the school following proper guidelines. NDSU has a full-time custodial staff to keep the weight facility properly sanitized.
Coaches are now allowed to meet or work with players. The NCAA extended the dead period in recruiting until the end of July, a move that is synonymous with players and coaches working together.
All interaction between coaches and players will still be done virtually.
The Bison open their season Sept. 5 at the University of Oregon, a game that, as of this week, is still scheduled.
“I think that’s how most programs are moving forward,” Larsen said, “until they’re told differently or things drastically change.”