The possibilities for playing the 2020 Big Ten football season are all over the map right now.
In the last couple weeks, Oct. 10, Thanksgiving week, early January and late January start dates have all been floated.
Now imagine you are strength and conditioning coach trying to prepare a team to be ready for week one. Whenever that is.
The college football calendar has been set in stone for generations, until 2020. And strength and conditioning programs have been precisely engineered with those calendars in mind to have football players in peak condition for the season.
Of course all of that is thrown out the window this year.
New Indiana strength and conditioning coach Aaron Wellman has had a greater challenge than most since arriving in Bloomington in the spring. Without the benefit of knowing anyone on the IU roster, Wellman did his best to remotely design individual plans for the players.
Now everyone is back in Bloomington and training, but it is still not clear at all if or when a season might begin.
Wellman commented on Wednesday about building a training plan for the 2020 season amid so much uncertainty.
“Obviously, the sooner, the better,” Wellman said of the preferred amount of runway time prior to the start of the season. “If we know that we have 2-3 months to prepare, the training program looks vastly different than if they say we are playing in four weeks. That is a whole different ballgame.
“We take a long-term approach. We try to monitor every yard our players run, the volume of the lifting sessions and the intensity of the lifting sessions on an individual basis with 120 guys. We try to do what is absolutely best for each individual and that is tough to do if we do not have a true end point, if we do not have a true date or how long we have to build to.”
Wellman came to IU from the New York Giants.
While in the NFL, he earned a reputation for designing a program that reduced the risk for soft tissues injuries such as knee ligament tears.
Achieving the precision necessary to help players avoid those injuries is particularly challenging right now
“Certainly, what we do not want to do is overload our players early,” Wellman said. “The biggest risk of soft tissue injury, the two biggest risk factors are previous injury, which we have a hard time controlling after it has happened, but also is the large, acute increase in training loads.
“I will give you an example. If they say it’s three weeks away, all of us are going to feel a sense of responsibility to increase these training loads and these demands to get them ready for that. There are problems with that. The sooner we know the start date, and I do not know anything that you do not know, we are operating day-to-day, but the sooner we know the clear-cut guidelines on the calendar, the better decisions we are going to be able to make as coaches. The last thing I want to do at this particular time is overload our players too much and run into problems one or two weeks from now.”
Wellman has to manage everything he is doing with another variable in mind.
The later the 2020 season is pushed back, the more the 2021 season is impacted.
IU head coach Tom Allen and many others have expressed concerns about the load on the bodies of athletes playing two seasons in relatively close proximity.
Because all of this represents uncharted territory, Wellman readily admits that nothing is clear cut right now.
“I do not know that we have a really good, sound answer to that (the impact of playing two seasons closer together than normal),” Wellman said.
“We have to be flexible and we have to be willing to adjust. I think the team that does that the best will have their athletes in the best physical state and have the biggest opportunity to mitigate those injuries that are associated with high training loads, frequent competitions and a shorter calendar year.”
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