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Football players will begin return to campus June 12, Brown says

mack brown usc-820.jpg
Mack Brown walks onto the field of the Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte, NC on Saturday, August 31, 2019. UNC beat South Carolina 24-20.

After months of uncertainty due to the COVID-19 pandemic, UNC finally has an answer on when its football players can come back to campus. 

In an email on Friday, UNC athletics director Bubba Cunningham outlined the plan to gradually reopen campus to student-athletes starting on June 12. Football players will make an optional return to campus in small groups on June 12, 19, 26 and 29.  

Head coach Mack Brown held a press conference on Friday to answer questions on the Tar Heels' return to campus in preparation for a still uncertain Sept. 4 start to the 2020 season against Central Florida. 

Brown said players and coaches will be tested the first week they arrive to campus, and if the test comes back positive, they will be sent home and brought back when they are no longer contagious and test negative. 

“We are working all the protocols with our medical staff in the building,” Brown said. “We will be wearing masks and players will be wearing masks throughout the building.”

Brown noted the difficulties that come with ensuring that players remain distanced from individuals outside of the team, who have not been tested and may not follow similarly strict social distancing protocols.

“Some people aren’t worried about the virus, some people think it's nothing, it's just the flu, and they don’t want to wear a mask,” Brown said. “Some people say ‘Well, kids aren’t going to go by the social distancing rules,’ and well, we have to. That’s what we’ve got to do to make sure that we stay safe and that football works.” 

Brown said the players that live on campus will live in Parker Residence Hall for their first month on campus and those that live off campus will still be allowed to do so. 

In terms of how individual players' return dates will be decided, Brown said his coaching staff has not yet made a final decision, but that a variety of factors will go into determining who returns and when. 

“I told (the staff), talk to the players,” Brown said. “Who is better off here than they are at home, who’s having trouble eating at home that could get more nourishment here, who doesn’t have a place to work out at home. So you’ll be safer here. So we’re looking at the housing, but we’re also looking at the individuals.” 

Despite the pressures of COVID-19 and the questions regarding player safety during the pandemic, Brown said that his players and staff are excited to return to campus and get back on the field. 

“I asked each one of them, ‘Are you concerned at all about coming back, are you nervous?’ and they were 100 percent ‘we’re so excited about coming back,’” Brown said. “If one says, ‘Coach, I’m a little anxious; could I wait two weeks and see how it goes before I come back?’ that’s easy, then we tell him he can be on a second list or a third list.” 

It's still unknown when North Carolina will return to the field officially for games. The ACC and other FBS conferences came together with television networks to push back the decision on kickoff times past the usual June 1 date. 

When the Tar Heels do return to the field, they will do so with high expectations. After winning the Military Bowl last season in resounding 55-13 fashion — the program’s first bowl win since 2013 — many outlets have UNC slated as a preseason top-25 team. 

While there are still questions as to what exactly the 2020 season will look like, Brown said he expects to play in some form. 

“Coaches and players and I feel like we’re going to play,” Brown said.

@zachycrain

@DTHSports | sports@dailytarheel.com

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