College sports will be impacted financially and physically by their COVID-19 adjustments. These impacts will be long-lasting, SIUE sports experts said.
Travel is one of the biggest factors schools are going to have to adjust, be-cause some schools have to fly to other schools, SIUE Director of Athletics Tim Hall said.
“Flying may not be recommended during the pandemic,” Hall said. “Universities are also considering using their own buses when traveling instead of a charter.”
For the long term, conferences will be changed so that universities won’t have to travel as far to play their games. The pandemic propelled the SIUE men’s soccer team to further consider switching from the Mid-American Conference to the Missouri Valley Conference in the next year.
“It was a part of a more holistic way of looking at geography and what’s closer,” Cale Wassermann, men’s soccer head coach, said. “This pandemic hasn’t started that, but it definitely emphasized the need for it.”
The atmosphere in the following seasons will be different. The games will be played the same, but there will not be large crowds in the stands. Seating will be limited to encourage social distancing, and masks will be required. “I am going to be an optimist and we are going to come out of this okay,” Hall said.
Another long-term effect on universities is the financial impact on revenue they normally receive from playing their sports. Hall said that while SIUE is losing money, it is not hurting as bad as other schools. Even if the pandemic were to dissipate, the financial strain now placed on schools across the country will not.
Dan Mahony, SIU system president, is also teaching a sports-related class at SIUE. He is widely published in the fields of sport consumer behavior and intercollegiate athletics. He also is a former president of the North American Society for Sport Management and received the organization’s 2007 Earle Zeigler Award for his research contributions to the field. He said large schools, such as the Power Five, are feeling the brunt of budget cuts.
“For the large schools, some have estimated an impact of over $100 million for some schools if they do not play football,” Mahony said.
SIUE lost revenue, but not enough to have to lay off employees within their respective athletic departments the way bigger schools are having to do because they don’t have enough money to have them at the university.
“SIUE will be in a good place once this virus ends because we handled our financial stuff a lot better,” Hall said.
This loss of revenue means universities are going to have to budget differently this year, because the NCAA is granting anyone who missed the chance to play this past season an extra year of eligibility if they wish to take it.
“I know many spring sport student-athletes who chose to graduate in May and move on rather than stay for another year, even though they had that option,” Mahony said. “We will likely know more about this impact near the end of the year.”
Universities are navigating how to handle future upticks in cases. Action will be taken as quickly as possible when someone tests positive or is in contact with someone that tests positive, Mahony said.
“Throughout the last couple of months, we have seen athletic programs across the country take action when there is a relapse on a team or in an athletic department. They have shut down practices for periods of time ... I would expect that would continue in the future,” Mahony said.
Precautions in place right now like temperature checks before training and sanitation stations in all sports complexes will continue across universities. Athletes will also be using a heart rate monitor when playing, since that is a huge health risk when it comes to COVID-19, Mahony said.
SIUE’s Associate Athletic Director for Compliance and Senior Women’s Administrator Katie Zingg said this experience has taught her to adapt to an unpredictable future.
“I have learned to live in a space of more unknowns than ever before,” Zingg said. “It’s been challenging to live with so many questions that can’t be answered as quickly as we want and plan for a completely unpredictable future. Learning to be flexible and taking things as they come has been very important.”
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