Though the NCAA ruled athletes may return to schools for voluntary workouts starting Monday, UNO Athletic Director Trev Alberts is taking a cautious approach.
“It was a good move by the NCAA,” he said. “It allows flexibility for each institution to determine what makes the most sense, and we’re going to take it nice and slow.”
Alberts said he will rely on information from the governor’s office and health authorities to help set safety guidelines for athletes. That includes input from the University of Nebraska Medical Center.
“We definitely will benefit from our close relationship to the Med Center,” he said. “They’ve created a pandemic recovery guide for all of higher education and the overall checklist is 22 pages long, so that will show us how to move our campus forward.”
He added it’s important to create policies and procedures, then hold people accountable to make sure they follow those.
“The only way we can learn it is to execute our plan,” he said. “We’ll start very slowly, and if we’re successful in the first phase we’ll slowly expand it and grow it.”
Alberts said one issue UNO won’t have to deal with is the return of football players.
“You can imagine the intense challenge if 150 student-athletes are coming back at the same time,” he said. “We have about 285 student-athletes total and that’s a more manageable number.”
Alberts said getting those 285 prepared for their seasons will present another challenge.
“All of them are going to need a physical,” he said. “What was simple before isn’t that way anymore.”
Alberts said returning athletes receiving the highest priority will be the ones going through rehabilitation and those involved in fall sports, which includes volleyball.
“I feel good that we’re moving forward,” UNO volleyball coach Matt Buttermore said. “But we all know there’s still a lot of uncertainty.”
Buttermore said he has stayed in contact with his team since the NCAA shut down athletics in mid-March due to the coronavirus.
“We’re making sure they’re feeling good and doing well academically,” he said. “We’ve also sent out some videos of international matches and had them study the techniques of those players.”
He added his players are committed to following all of the school’s safety guidelines concerning the return to workouts.
“It’s what we have to do,” he said. “Everybody just wants to be safe.”
Alberts said standard distancing procedures will be in place and everyone will be required to wear a mask.
“It’s going to be a learning experience,” he said. “And we’re all going to be learning together.”
Alberts also said the athletic department will monitor the situation closely and continue to work toward providing the safest environment possible.
“We’re going to eventually be assembling a three-ring binder of policies and procedures,” he said. “We’re going to use this opportunity here in the early part of the summer and all the way through the fall to keep studying and learning.”
He added knowledge will help as more athletes return for workouts. That includes the hockey team, which usually doesn’t begin workouts until early July.
“We’re going to do everything very slowly and very carefully,” he said. “I know we have a lot of athletes that live locally who are champing at the bit to get back, but their health and safety has to be a priority.”
Alberts said that cautious approach hopefully will pay off in the long run.
“Our goal is that we don’t get to the point where we have to shut it all down,” he said. “The smartest thing for us is to go very, very slow.”
He said he is hopeful the policies in place for the return of voluntary workouts will be the first step toward something bigger.
“We’re going to really use it as a test,” he said. “We want to know how to manage situations when hopefully all of our students are back on campus in the fall.”