HUNTINGTON — Scott Morehouse has seen just about everything that can hinder the flow of a sporting event in his 16 years at Marshall.
On-field injuries, fights in the stands, weather delays, light pole fires, band carts and everything else in-between — you name it, Morehouse has seen it during his time as Marshall’s associate athletic director of game operations and facilities.
Still, Morehouse has never seen anything like what is happening in the sports world now during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Like so many others, Morehouse’s world has been at a standstill for nearly two months with no games to plan for or events to oversee.
That doesn’t mean he’s not working, though. Instead, it is the opposite as Morehouse and his team with Marshall facilities are working harder than ever to make sure that when sporting events are able to come back around, they are prepared for what lies ahead.
“No one has ever dealt with this, so you are looking in every direction and planning for every scenario,” Morehouse said. “That makes it difficult because we’ve never experienced anything like this.”
Some of that preparation included a conference call Saturday morning — one that was supposed to last an hour, but ended up exceeding two hours in length.
In addition to Morehouse, Saturday’s call featured a multitude of sports personnel who are all essential to the behind-the-scenes preparation for events before the first student-athlete takes the field or court for a practice or game.
That includes Morehouse’s facilities personnel, along with athletic trainers, team physicians and Marshall’s strength and conditioning staff.
When the NCAA released its “Core Principles of Resocialization of Collegiate Sport” guidelines last week, it included a three-phase outline for universities to reimplement athletics into the daily fabric.
With the state of West Virginia’s numbers in regard to COVID-19 staying low, the opportunity is there for the state’s Division I schools to get their sports teams back on the field quickly when/if the NCAA approves the resumption of activities.
Saturday’s call for Morehouse and the others focused on what steps need to be taken should the NCAA move forward with competition. It includes everything from sanitation of facilities for practices to oversight of players’ well-being.
“You take all the recommendations from the CDC, local medical staff, our team physicians and then put plans together,” Morehouse said. “We’re trying to gather up all the information we possibly can to make sure we are doing everything correctly.”
Football has been one sport that has received the most focus and, in the case of Marshall University, it is pivotal because of the revenue generated by the sport.
On the surface, it appears there is plenty of time to plan for such — especially with the process of reopening states and travel just starting.
However, the timeline is drawing critical for Morehouse and Marshall’s staff to get a plan in place due to recommendations by the NCAA’s different committees.
In Marshall’s case, the 2020 football season is slated to start Aug. 29 with a road game at East Carolina that falls in Week Zero — the first week available to play games.
Recently, the NCAA recommended teams practice for six weeks prior to the first game, which includes two weeks for what Marshall Athletic Director Mike Hamrick called the “acclimation period” back into sports and then another four weeks of preparation, which is on par with most years.
However, the return process due to COVID-19 starts well before that acclimation period.
Morehouse confirmed that any Marshall student-athlete traveling from out of state back into campus would be subject to a mandatory self-quarantine before the resumption of athletic activities, which includes workouts or practice.
“Absolutely. That is a university rule,” Morehouse said. “If they come back in from out of state, they have to self-quarantine. It’s the smart thing to do. Why wouldn’t you? With COVID-19, you want to reduce as much risk as possible.”
In the past, the CDC’s recommendation on self-quarantines has been 14 days because that is the standard length of time for symptoms to show in positive cases.
For Marshall football to start its practice season in time for the Aug. 29 opener at ECU, the Herd would have to start the acclimation period in early to mid-July.
With players having to quarantine prior to that, it would mean that those student-athletes would need to be back on campus by the end of June while undergoing the recommended course of action, which includes daily temperature checks and other means of diagnostic testing to ensure no positive cases are present.
Morehouse said there is nothing concrete in terms of the NCAA’s plans for fall as of yet, but the NCAA’s Division I Football Issues Committee is putting together recommendations that could be discussed in the coming weeks, which — if approved — could pave the way for a possible June return.
That’s why Marshall’s staff is being proactive in getting facilities ready and plans together, in case of such approval — a hard task because the guidelines and information are changing daily.
“We would love to say it’s at the beginning of June, but the NCAA has to pass some things, so we’ll just have to wait and see,” Morehouse said. “Once we get a little closer and we get more definitive guidelines, then we can set a plan in place. There’s just so many scenarios right now that it will make your head spin.”
Despite the unknowns, Morehouse was confident that Saturday’s call, plus previous communications on all levels (university, local, state) have Marshall prepared to move forward quickly under any scenario outlined by the NCAA.
“As long as things don’t change here in the state of West Virginia, we have some tentative dates in place,” Morehouse said. “Hopefully, the state’s numbers don’t change and we’ll be able to implement the plan that we are currently working on.”