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Air Force Jacob Trach, Connor Carey and Jacob Spiewak celebrate the last play during the Air Force football spring scrimmage at Falcon Stadium at the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs on March 7, 2020. (Chancey Bush/ The Gazette)

Cadet-athletes will begin returning to the Air Force Academy this month, allowing for a rare uninterrupted summer of preparation for the upcoming season.

An outline of those plans was given Monday by athletic director Nathan Pine, who noted that the Falcons stand to gain from a competitive standpoint.

“For the first time, the academy will be on as close to a level of a playing field as we have been with our competitors,” Pine wrote in an online message, “who typically have their athletes on campus all summer working out together.”

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Cadets will return at some point in June and will be tested for the coronavirus. That will be followed by two weeks of restricted movement, after which they will be tested again. They can then begin participating in voluntary team activities and utilize academy athletic facilities.

Generally, a cadet’s summer (after their freshman year, which is spent in basic training) is split into three three-week sessions. One is time off. Another is spent taking an academic class. The other is spent in a military-related activity — typically survival training for the incoming sophomores, Operation Air Force (similar to an internship where cadets travel to Air Force bases to shadow officers in their career field) for juniors and for the seniors various activities that include serving as cadre for basic training.

This year Operation Air Force has been canceled for coronavirus-related reasons. While clarification hasn’t been offered on the status or timing of the three-week leave, it is certain that cadets will remain at the academy for the duration of the summer after they arrive and clear the first two COVID-19 tests. So, while cadets will have various classes and responsibilities upon returning, they will be together at the academy for roughly six weeks and through the early August beginning of the fall semester. It’s a difference that will give coaches access to their teams under a time frame that more resembles a typical NCAA program.

For the football team, this comes after a fortuitous twist that saw it complete 13 of 15 spring practice sessions before the academy sent underclassmen home in mid-March as a reaction to the COVID-19 pandemic. This came about because coach Troy Calhoun prefers to start in February and complete spring practice before spring break, allowing cadets to then have the final portion of the semester to focus on weight training and academics. This year, that resulted in Air Force getting in much of its spring work while many teams completed only a few, if any, practices before campuses were emptied.

These advantages — or, at the very least, reduction of disadvantages — come after the Falcons went 11-2 in 2019, finishing the season ranked No. 23 by The Associated Press. Early rankings from CBS Sports again have the Falcons in the Top 25.

Of course, at this point there remain questions if there will even be a season for Air Force to capitalize on the situation.

“We are actively preparing to have collegiate athletic competitions this fall,” Pine wrote. “While we do not know yet exactly what they will look like, we are working on multiple scenarios for fans in attendance. We are also looking at what in-game operations will look like. While there is still uncertainty in this area, our early planning now will help us be prepared to provide fans with a safe and fun environment.”

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