OU football: Lincoln Riley's stomach for recruiting is serving him well in third season

Oklahoma coach Lincoln Riley watches the field during the Sooners' game against Baylor in the Big 12 Championship on Dec. 7 at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas. Riley and OU have been working overtime lately with the December early signing period set to begin today.

• Editor’s note: There are more questions than answers regarding when, and how, college football will begin again. Each week until next season, The Transcript will produce its Watch List to monitor developments, setbacks or points of interest surrounding college football’s anticipated return.

Oklahoma, as promised, chose to slowly wade into its voluntary offseason workouts. Lincoln Riley called a June 1 return “ridiculous” and wouldn’t you know, the Sooners announced they will start July 1.

For what it’s worth, during an appearance on the Rich Eisen Show on Thursday Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh said “it looks like” mandatory college football workouts will begin July 1.

If that’s true, OU will begin voluntary workouts while others are starting mandatory workouts.

According to The Oklahoman, which reported when the Sooners’ voluntary workouts would begin before it became official, OU has no intention of backing off its timeline no matter what.

But Harbaugh’s comments — take them with as much credibility as you like — present an interesting scenario in which Riley’s team could be one of the last in the nation to begin a formal preseason.

Does that matter?

Not if OU is confident in the way it’s coordinating workouts with players who are still back in their hometowns, and Riley seems to like what the team’s been doing. He won’t reveal any specifics publicly about how OU is training its players remotely, and has been cautious about making strength coach Bennie Wylie available for interviews. In Riley’s world that usually means he has a nice card he’d rather not reveal.

People across the world are pivoting to working remotely. It’s completely feasible that college football has as well. Consider this from Riley, on why he isn’t rushing his staff back into its offices June 1: “We’re able to get a lot done [now]. I don’t know that there’s honestly … if you go back in the office now with all the social distancing, all the regulations and all that’s going on, for us you almost feel like even if we felt like it was safe, I don’t know if we can get as much done that we can get done right now with all the hoops you have to jump through to get through it.”

Plus, working out away from campus became less of an obstruction for football teams Wednesday, when the NCAA eased its guidelines on what strength coaches can do virtually. They may now observe players’ workouts, though only for health and safety purposes and at the request of the player.

Voluntary workouts ultimately will give way to a preseason camp, which if local governments make it so, will lead to a football season in some shape or form.

• Trending up: Iowa State athletic director Jamie Pollard penned a letter to Cyclones fans Tuesday saying the school plans on an on-time start to the season and with half capacity in the stadium. That’s 30,000 fans at Jack Trice Stadium.

Here’s the kicker: Iowa State will allow fans to sit out the 2020 season and still have their tickets in 2021. That’s a fan-friendly model for football tickets in 2020, something other schools could mimic.

OU will have to that sort out eventually. On March 19, it sent an email to season-ticket holders extending the renewal deadline to June 1. Undecided fans have this weekend to think it over — do they jump into the fray, renew their tickets and risk being on the outside looking in next season? What if they don’t renew at all? Of all the models being projected, few if anyone is projecting full-capacity stadiums; if fans are allowed in there will be a select few chosen.

It’s unclear how many OU football season tickets have been sold for next season. OU has not yet granted a Transcript request for that information.

• Trending down: It was foreseeable, but the Big 12 budget for 2020-21 is headed the wrong direction. The league will have a budget of 10% less than the current fiscal year, according to the Dallas Morning News.

Riley made a point to mention recently that athletic departments like OU’s aren’t bottomless pits of cash — although he admitted he used to think that was the case before he got there.

“We try to spend it really thinking it through and that it’s something that will really make a difference in our program,” he said. “We respect where it came from and if we have to make it work with a smaller (portion) than we’ll find a way.”

• Dates to consider: July 31. The NCAA has extended the recruiting dead period until then, meaning coaches may not host official visits until the moratorium lifts.

A dead period was already set from June 22-24, but that left most of June and July to bring recruits to campus. It means schools will continue producing virtual visits.

• Notable: Texas Gov. Greg Abott (R) announced Thursday that outdoor pro sporting events may continue there at 25% capacity starting Friday.

• Quotable: On the topic of local governments and sports operating in tandem, here’s what Norman mayor Breea Clark said a week ago regarding the upcoming football season: “Having 80,000 people right next to each other is a terrifying concept to me at this time. And if you didn't let them in the stadium, what would they do? Tailgate? Then it becomes the city's problem and that also terrifies me. So if we take away tailgating, what are they going to do, hang out in bars and be in close quarters?”

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