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An Iowa native and member of one of the NCAA’s most influential committees was fairly confident in April that college football would be played in 2020. A month and a half later, he still feels that way.

It’s not that 1984 Iowa State graduate Bret Gilliland of Adel, deputy commissioner of the Mountain West Conference and a member of the NCAA’s Division I football oversight committee, is an eternal optimist. He knows stuff can change — possibly even for the better.

“I’m even more encouraged about opening college football,” Gilliland told the Register this week. “We continue to progress in that direction. It doesn’t appear the virus is getting dramatically worse. We continue to learn as schools bring players back to voluntary workouts, as players get tested — some testing positive — and talking to each other and learning from each other.”

He’s on a committee that on Thursday could OK a plan that outlines how college football will gradually open. If the committee passes the plan on which they’ve been working for weeks, it advances next week for a vote by the NCAA Division I Council.

“There’s a lot going on in the world right now,” Gilliland said. “Teams are wanting to get back together. Coaches are wanting to get face-to-face with their kids. We have student-athlete representatives on the oversight committee. They’ve been supportive.”

Under the plan, Iowa State and Iowa can start 14 days of walk-throughs and team meetings July 24, if the plan passes. Preseason fall camp can begin Aug. 7. The Cyclones are scheduled to host South Dakota at Jack Trice Stadium, and the Hawkeyes entertain Northern Iowa at Kinnick Stadium in season-openers on Sept. 5. 

What happens after that is a crapshoot.

How many games they’ll play depends on coronavirus outbreaks during game weeks. Some teams won’t have any positive tests, or maybe just a few. Others, possibly upcoming opponents, might have so many that a game is called off or a different opponent is quickly found.

Is there a specific number of outbreaks during a game week that equates to not playing? Is there a clearinghouse that can facilitate scheduling on the fly? What about game officials who travel to sites from other states — who tests them, and what happens if they are positive for COVID-19?

Those are questions for conference administrators, school administrators and Gilliland’s committee to eventually address.

“The takeaway is that we first started thinking about (the opening plan) weeks ago,” Gilliland said. “Our mindset back then was that we might not have much time before the season, but as things started opening up in certain parts of country, we came to a realization that we have a little more runway than we thought.”

It looks like a workable plan. It’s another sign that college football will happen in some form this 2020 season.

“We’ve been working on it several weeks,” Gilliland said. “We put it out for feedback. We got people’s thoughts from respective conferences, but we need to have a final recommendation coming out of the Thursday meeting, and then take that to the NCAA council that meets next week.”

Generally, the plan looks like this.

  • July 13-23: Weight-training, conditioning and film review.
  • July 24-Aug. 6: Walk-throughs, team meetings, position meetings and one-on-one meetings are added during this period, which also includes two mandatory days off.
  • Aug. 7-Sept. 4: Preseason practice.
  • Sept. 5: Iowa State hosts South Dakota; Iowa hosts Northern Iowa.

“What’s best for student-athletes is to be able to prepare appropriately,” Gilliland said. “Rather than reinvent the wheel ... let’s leave it as normal as you can. We still have some runway. It’s still early June. We could know more by mid-July, so everyone understands that we have to be nimble.

"But am I optimistic that we’re going to have a season? Absolutely.”

Iowa State columnist Randy Peterson has been writing for the Des Moines Register for parts of six decades. Reach him at rpeterson@dmreg.com, 515-284-8132, and on Twitter at @RandyPete. No one covers the Cyclones like the Register. Subscribe today at DesMoinesRegister.com/Deal to make sure you never miss a moment.

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