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Leading teams during coronavirus outbreak remains complicated for Husker coaches

Leading teams during coronavirus outbreak remains complicated for Husker coaches

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LINCOLN — Nebraska coaches got some concrete answers Monday as to how the athletic department will operate in the coming weeks as measures to slow spread of COVID-19 bring the nation closer to a standstill.

Weight rooms will remain open, but no more than 30 athletes can be in them at any one time. The Huskers’ training table will remain open, too, albeit with different operating hours.

Coaches can’t require organized practices of any kind through April 6. But if an athlete in a “safety” event — like a pole vaulter or a gymnast practicing on the high bar — wants to practice as an individual, he or she can have a coach available “in a safety position” so long as a trainer is also there.

But NU track and field coach Gary Pepin said with each answer, there were still many questions left after coaches and administrators met.

For example, can athletes organize themselves into a workout, like a group of runners churning out a few miles together or a quarterback throwing to his receivers?

“And the questions go on and on about eligibility,” Pepin said.

The NCAA Division Council of Coordination Committee announced Friday that an extra year of eligibility for spring sport athletes would be “appropriate.” But the details of that still need to be hashed out, especially as it relates to scholarship money and seniors, Pepin said.

“Some of those people are in a position of graduating where they may be turning down jobs or, in some cases, if they had to go to grad school, the (application) deadline has already gone by for some of the majors," Pepin said. "Will there be an exception made for that? How are the scholarships going to be covered at that time. And there’s even questions about the national indoor track meet and the national wrestling championships. Are those people going to get that event back? You can take any area that you want, and there are a huge number of questions.”

Nebraska’s administration is “working hard” and “being very supportive” given the circumstances, Pepin said, so NU isn’t put in a competitive disadvantage.

But are answers coming soon?

“I hope so, so we can tell the kids,” Pepin said.

When he does communicate with them, it’ll be in one-on-one conversations or via text. Along with football, Pepin has one of the largest teams on campus with around 150 members, he said.

On Monday, federal health officials recommended that gatherings should be limited to 10 people or less. Organized team activities also aren’t allowed anyway, so Pepin can’t hold a team meeting. And he hasn't seen many of his student-athletes, including some from foreign countries who may be going back home.

A freshman sprinter is from Italy, one of the nations experiencing the worst outbreaks of coronavirus. As of Monday afternoon, Pepin hadn’t been in contact with him.

Most of Nebraska’s teams — except for baseball, softball, wrestling, volleyball and rifle — have at least one athlete from another country. Among the track athletes, South African distance runner George Kusche has already returned to his home country.

While the University of Nebraska-Lincoln is allowing students to move home for the remainder of the semester, it is keeping the dorms and some services open. Plus some student-athletes live off campus.

“You’ve got some parents who are saying ‘come home,’ and we’re certainly not going to tell anybody ‘you’ve got to stay here,’” Pepin said. “At the same time, our athletic director feels like one of the safest places they can be is right here at the university. So we’re encouraging them to stay, but they’re going to ultimately have to make the decision.”

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