Outbreak Presents New Challenges for College Athletics | Athletic Business

Outbreak Presents New Challenges for College Athletics

It’s a time of crisis management for collegiate athletics, which is in the midst of an unprecedented disruption. 

With headlining events like the NCAA tournaments called off, the spring sports calendar effectively sacrificed, and the fate of even fall sports uncertain — how are college athletics officials coping?

Yahoo Sports spoke to a number of officials who laid out the issues that concern them the most amid the coronavirus pandemic. Among the issues the report highlighted were academics (both for recruits and current student-athletes), the financial impact of the disruption, the possibility of a canceled football season, and safety issues that may arise due to the lack of practice time.

“We’re in unknown territory,” West Virginia president Gordon Gee told Yahoo Sports. “I’ve been through wars and pestilence and stock crashes and 9/11. I’ve never been through a pandemic. I feel like a small boy walking on a picket fence — thrilled but in danger of being impaled.”

When it comes to the issue of recruit academics, college athletics officials told Yahoo Sports that recruits who are dealing with closed schools and remote learning are having to overcome the digital divide to make sure they’re prepared for college. In addition, students are having to overcome additional challenges as they prepare for the SAT and ACT.

Meanwhile on campus, the classroom aspect of student-athlete life has been completely disrupted. While at-risk academic students could rely on the structure of classes, tutoring sessions and team activities, remote learning doesn’t allow for those same opportunities. The varying academic schedules and grading structures at schools can vary broadly, and thus present a unique challenge if the NCAA seeks to provide eligibility relief. 

Campus operations have largely been suspended throughout the country, which means universities have less wiggle room when it comes to their budgets. Yahoo Sports reports that schools are facing revenue losses from housing and dining — on top of declines caused by canceled athletic events and slowing donations. 

“The university will not be able to bail out the athletic programs because the university itself is under such constraints,” West Virginia’s Gee told Yahoo Sports.

Adding to the list of concerns is the possibility of a fall season without football. At schools that sponsor the sport, football is generally a major revenue source, and a season without it could be devastating. “That would be catastrophic for athletic departments if they can’t play football this fall,” an anonymous industry source told Yahoo Sports. “It’s just literally been the last [few days], but those conversations are coming. Some schools are already modeling. A lot of it is a guessing game of none of us knowing.”

Finally, with team activities suspended, some within college athletics are concerned that players won’t have developed safe techniques or gotten into proper condition for when it’s time to return to competition. One Power Five AD told Yahoo Sports “I’m very concerned about, physically, from a safety perspective, how do we get kids ready to play football. This is going to be a long period of time. At virtually no time in their sports experience have [our athletes] had this much down time. From elementary school on. They can’t get in local health clubs. No one can get in our weight room. Your local high school is closed. What can you do in your house?”

How is your college athletic department responding to the pandemic? Shoot us an email at editors@athleticbusiness.com and let us know.

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