Obviously the last month has been chock-full of budget meetings and brainstorm sessions for universities and colleges around the world in an effort to survive the COVID-19 shutdowns.
There are still too many unanswered questions to move forward with any certainty, but that didn’t stop five NCAA power conference commissioners from asking the council to waive numerous Division I requirements.
The request was officially made last Wednesday. By Friday, the NCAA Division I council had decided to not temporarily waive the minimum number of sports required to be a Division I member. However, they also said they’d consider other changes in the coming weeks that may include the number of games played in a season.
“I believe in saving sports and saving people, so to speak,” Long Beach State athletics director Andy Fee said. “I get the financial side but we’re in uncertain economic times and we all need to tighten the belts and figure out a way to move forward.”
This unprecedented request targets non-revenue athletics such as volleyball, tennis and water polo. The idea is to take those sports out of the budget for a few years in order to afford the other revenue sports like football and basketball. The council added that permitting schools to have less than the minimum 16 sports required for Division 1 membership would only be considered on a case-by-case basis.
“I think a lot of people are concerned about the type of sports that are dropped, and those are the sports that we here at Long Beach State excel at,” Fee said. “Those are Olympic sports and we’re very proud of all of our programs. You just wonder if this waiver goes through, is there a more permanent repercussion that eventually leads to programs in the long term being dropped?”
Last week, NCAA coaches and players immediately started sharing #SaveOurSports through social media platforms and signing numerous online petitions to send a message to the NCAA. The AVCA (American Volleyball Coaches Association) was particularly outspoken.
“I think the AVCA is at least making the NCAA listen to all these voices and see these faces that would be affected,” LBSU men’s volleyball coach Alan Knipe said. “Everyone’s doing things differently. I’m really proud of the athletic department at LBSU and the leadership above for being calm and reasonable about waiting for information before making decisions.”
Smaller schools have already tried to adjust on the fly. Sonoma State cut their tennis program last week.
“Once you cut something, it’s very difficult to bring it back, whether it’s a sport or a position within a sport,” Knipe said. “Everyone will say, ‘When times are better we’ll look at bringing it back,’ but that doesn’t happen.”
Many athletic directors across the country have gone on record saying they don’t like that some sports are at risk, and other are not.
“Basically what you’re doing is you’re kind of pitting revenue sports against non-revenue sports,” Fee said. “I don’t like that because you’re putting student athletes on the front line of a potential battle, and I don’t like to think of them as pawns on the chessboard.”
Also last week, the NCAA delayed a decision on allowing all college athletes to be immediately eligible one time after transferring.
“There’s a lot of information to come in — when are we going to open up as a state, will we be back in school face to face, do the fall sports start on time,” Knipe said. “These are all important factors and it’s important to wait and take in all the information. Think it’s important to keep all our sports.”
LBSU and Fee are also trying to figure out how to keep the spring student athletes who want to take advantage of eligibility relief.
The NCAA announced earlier this month that any senior who wants to repeat this lost season can do so — if the university can afford to provide the opportunity. Fee said they initially heard that about 30 seniors wanted to return, but that number has fallen.
“Even though it’s a tough economic climate now, they want to start their professional careers,” Fee said. “The biggest piece of the puzzle is, ‘Can we offer aid to those student athletes?’ and we are scrambling to just see what the financial picture looks like. But I can tell you that we’ve already had a number of conversations where we are going to be bringing some people back in. It really is a case by case scenario.”
The retention of these seniors also will cause problems in terms of roster size and traveling expenses of those spring sports.
“Overall roster numbers and the actual management of those rosters is a little bit of the hidden magic that coaches are gonna have to figure out,” Fee said.
Fee added that decisions on these returning seniors have to be made quickly because of enrollment and registration that usually happens in May and June.
“It’s gonna have to be sooner rather than later,” Fee said. “Some of these student athletes will need to find and begin their master’s program. We’re going to have to make some decisions in a very timely manner. We really want to find out and solidify as many as we possibly can in the near term.”
PODCAST: Long Beach State’s Andy Fee Talks State Of The Department