The global coronavirus pandemic has a tight grip on the sports world and shows no signs ofabating. Sports across the globe have grinded to a sudden halt, including North Alabama athletics.
Every NCAA spring sport is cancelled. As UNA is a new Division-I school, a large portion of its revenue comes from playing games against larger FBS schools for pay.
“That is the great unknown. Our first concern was to address the health and well-being of our students and our staff,” said Mark Linder, UNA Athletic Director. “After spring break, we will begin to focus on the financial concerns on the horizon.”
North Alabama plays Division-I FBS teams from top conferences in an effort to provide more money for facilities and their teams. Baseball, softball, and beach volleyball are three sports that lost a majority of their seasons along with the “big games” that help contribute financially.
“I think most of them were extremely disappointed in how their seasons were cut short,” Linder said. “When you compete in athletics, you get absorbed with winning the games. However, once you are removed from the arena of competition, you realize that it is the relationships with your teammates that you will forever treasure.”
The NCAA also shut down the men’s and women’s basketball tournaments and other winter sports such as tennis. UNA already completed both men’s and women’s basketball seasons but the tennis team still had a few matches ahead.
COVID-19 became a significant news headline Jan. 30. Throughout the month of February the spread of the virus slowly picked up steam, only to emerge in March as a global pandemic.
The NCAA terminated spring sports to help slow the spread of the virus because of the amount of traveling these sports engage in.
The North Alabama baseball team only played 16 games overall while the softball team only played in 23 games this spring. The baseball team lost close to 75 percent of their season since they were slated to play 56 games. The softball team lost over half of their season, missing 33 of their 56 games.The NCAA released information that the spring players will be given an additional year of eligibility. However, the NCAA decided not to provide winter sport athletes an extra year since a majority of those athletes had completed their seasons.
“While I understand the winter sports didn't get the chance to play for a national championship, they did get to complete their regular seasons,” Linder said. “So, I am in agreement with looking into the extra year for the spring sport student-athletes.”
In the wake of the pandemic, the UNA athletic department has focused on ensuring that its people are safe, healthy and still being paid. With a smaller staff and all players off-campus, the department is constantly looking into how it can best operate during this time of uncertainty.
“Our senior leadership team for athletics started meeting on a daily basis,” Linder said. “Wediscuss health and safety concerns, communication needs and NCAA issues. My hope is that these daily meetings help our department make good decisions as we get additional information. We are going to repurpose some people into other areas over the next 90 days to make sure we get ahead in those other areas.”
Coaches are forced to stop recruiting athletes until further notice as well per the NCAA.
“The NCAA has put a ban on in-person recruiting and signing an NLI at least until April 15,” Linder said. “Every coach knows that this will impact their team. However, they also know that all the other institutions are facing the same issues.”
All NCAA coaches are in the same position in terms of recruiting, but there is a significant decrease in funds without the revenue generated by game tickets and other game-related revenue. This impacts not only facilities, but people that work in operational jobs and also scholarships.
“When we discuss revenue, it will impact staffing, operations and facilities,” Linder said. “We have always tried to protect scholarships for our student-athletes. So, moving into the future, that would be the one area that I would want to protect, if at all possible.”
Linder knows the impact this virus has on sports, however he emphasized that its impact is far greater than sports.
“It has shown me that we, humanity, and our systems, financial, health care, education, et cetera, are so fragile,” Linder said. “It has also shown quality leadership and good, yet simple, communication is so important. We will all be impacted. For that reason, we will all have to join forces and do what is best for the University as a whole. This is a time when silos and selfishness will be detrimental to the overall good of UNA.”
CDC has recommended that people stay in groups of 10 or less during this time and social distance as much as possible. In so doing, experts believe the spread of the virus will have a lesser impact and will recede more quickly.
The CDC and other experts believe that the virus, if not handled correctly, will last anywhere from four to nine months.
If the virus lasts a full nine month timeline, it will have made it all the way to September and will directly impact NCAA football and the NFL. This could move the start of the season to a later date and could potentially see a longer drought of sports.
“That is an unknown,” Linder said. “Obviously, if the outbreak lasts that long, we will all have issues to address. We, UNA, have been in existence for 190 years. Our spirit, humility, and will have always been Lion-like. We will be facing some difficult times, but our people will come together and overcome this adversity like the ones in the past.”
The stoppage of sports has left many sports fans wondering what to do in this time of quarantine. However, it only will last as long as people allow it to last. The more people stick to the guidelines of the CDC, the faster the virus will be slowed down.
Eventually sports will return. However, at the moment, this great unknown is bigger than sports and qualifies as the top priority for everyone.