As 400 or so University of Miami student-athletes on Monday begin to navigate the “new normal,’’ which is about as distant from normal as the earth is from the sun (92,900,000 miles), the Hurricanes athletic director is contemplating a very unnerving future — no matter how long or short in duration — driven by a virus that knows no boundaries.
“Obviously, I’ve never been through anything like this,’’ Blake James told the Miami Herald by phone on Friday, three days before all UM students were to begin the last six weeks of the school year with online classes. “There are a lot of moving parts. The current normal changes every day.’’
And though James won’t even begin to talk specifics when asked at what point the football schedule would have to be contemplated and, perhaps, cut short or rearranged, he acknowledged that it is a scenario that obviously would be discussed if the fallout continues from Covid-19 and the coronavirus.
“It’s too early to say anything about that,’’ James said. “It’s a situation where football [fall camp] doesn’t start until August and assuming they’re able to have a full fall camp or majority of camp, I don’t think there will be any impact on the schedule — for any of our fall sports.’’
“But what if?’’ James was asked regarding a scenario in which the football season is cut short. “What if?’’
“It’s something everyone is thinking about,’’ he said. “It’s one we have to be thinking about. We’re looking at all possible scenarios and how they will play out and what that will mean for our programs and students.
“I haven’t had those calls in specifics with the NCAA yet. Those are big picture calls. Obviously there’s a significance to the NCAA with cancellation of the men’s basketball tournament. I don’t think it’s a secret to anyone that it’s one of the most significant revenue providers for the [NCAA] and to not have that happen this year will have a significant impact on the amount of revenue that will be able to be distributed to not only Division I but Division II and III.”
How much revenue is that?
“I’m sure it’s close to a billion dollars,’’ James said.
“Everything is being evaluated and obviously we’re looking at a variety of scenarios and doing what we can do to plan for whatever comes next. We’re hoping everyone not only in our community but across the country listens to the advice and direction of our government and takes the steps that are necessary to end this virus as soon as possible.”
Anyone on campus?
James, now working from home, said fewer than 30 student-athletes remained in campus housing as of Friday, but that he didn’t know how many there were by sport. “We have some that live in the area in off-campus apartments or houses, and others have gone home to stay with their parents. I don’t know what that number is overall. The ones we do have on campus, some are international, some are local and some are from out of state.
“Our on-campus cafeteria will provide grab-and-go type meals for our kids there.’’
Major football programs, the College Football Playoff and the NCAA basketball tournament universally drive almost all the other collegiate sports, and James indicated the only competition revenue for UM still coming in this late in the academic year had been money from baseball tickets.
“We offered refunds to anyone who had tickets,’’ he said. “They can also use it as a credit for tickets next year or donate it to the student athletic scholarship fund.”
Some donations to UM athletics are still coming in, but James said he expects “a downturn in donations toward the end of the fiscal year.”
“That’s understandable and something we’re planning for. The big thing will be to see how this continues to impact our society and what that means for fall sports.
March Madness sadness
“I’m looking forward to getting sports back, whether it’s collegiate or professional. It seems hard to believe that it’s only been a few days since we’ve gone without sports. I sat watching TV Thursday night thinking, ‘This would have been the first night of March Madness,’ and I was missing that.”
This past week the NCAA canceled all spring sports and championships through the end of the 2019-20 academic year, but recently announced that seniors would be given the option of another year of eligibility. James said it’s too early to know for sure who will return for the extra year, because the NCAA has yet to formalize details of how that would work as far as scholarship numbers and any other parameters.
“Until we get to the point of knowing exactly what that is going to look like, it’s hard for anybody to say, ‘Yes. I want it.’ I know our coaches have had some conversations with some of our students and there have been mixed responses. I don’t know that anyone has said they’re a definite yes.
“Obviously the scholarships are paid for by the institutions,’’ James continued. “Whatever the NCAA decides, we will be operating at that level. And those are costs that we will incur as a program.’’
Athletes online Monday
For now, James is concerned about athletes smoothly transitioning to online learning as of Monday. He said academic advisors from athletics have already been communicating with players. Even coaches will participate, “given the situation,’’ James said. “It’s going to be a different learning experience.’’
James said the Hurricanes strength and conditioning staff is working with the athletes to help them adjust to their individual situations. “I’m sure they’ll come up with all sorts of things,’’ he said. “The young people in our program want to compete to win ACC and ultimately national championships and I’m sure they’ll be doing things on their own. Anytime you’re in a situation like this where your life changes so much you want to get out and get some energy released.
“We’ll send things out to them they can work on to help them stay in shape and release stress, but nothing will be required right now.’’
James said he’s thankful that the University of Miami’s “campus emergency response team’’ has had plenty of experience dealing with situations that require the campus to basically be closed down. Nearly all employees are working remotely from their homes.
“Their experience with hurricanes has really made things flow well,’’ he said. “I feel for all the athletes who lost the chance to compete at something they worked so hard for. That’s been an unfortunate reality of this situation, and our heart goes out to all of them at every level.’’
This story was originally published March 22, 2020 6:10 PM.