Louisiana Tech Athletic Director Tommy McClelland discusses if spring football practice will be able to take place.
It’s been two whole months since competition on any level of collegiate athletes has been held.
This week, in a normal world, college baseball and softball seasons would be inching closer to the postseason with teams in various conferences across the country playing contests and vying for league tournament seeding and building a resume that could be considered worth a bid to each sport’s respective NCAA tournament.
Outdoor track and field teams would be starting up conference championships.
Due to the public health scare of COVID-19, college athletics were halted on March 13. In the wake, even more than 60 days later, many questions still linger about when sports could return. How it would look when they are back, and what steps on the institutional and governmental level have to happen to us there?
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A view of Louisiana Tech’s new press box and executive suites from outside the east end zone. (Photo: Cory Diaz/The News-Star)
Arguably one of the more over-encompassing concerns for many athletic departments continues to be the short- and long-term financial toll coronavirus will have.
Several schools as well as leagues have already begun taking measures to curtail deficits as much as possible, including some trimming sports as a saving measure. Bowling Green decided to cut baseball Friday, the most recent individual school outcome.
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The Mid-Athletic Conference announced Thursday it would cut their member football stay in hotels the night before games as well as shrinking the travel team roster size from 76 to 70 players.
No question Conference USA has “everything on the table” when looking at ways to cut cost. For Louisiana Tech specifically, Athletic Director Tommy McClelland told The News-Star this week that though many athletic departments seem to be taking the “profitability” approach to the short-term future of athletics, his department continues to be focused on the student-athletes and the overall university student experience.
“We may not make as much money as we did in the past, but I believe somewhere we have an obligation that if its possible and safe to have students on campus and come to games, that’s what we want,” McClelland said. “Is profitability more important than the experience we deliver? I don’t want to be in that position. And I think it would be a disservice to student who chose Louisiana Tech.
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“Even if it’s less profitable, when these students come back here in the fall, when it’s allowed and safe to, we hope they come to games. We don’t exist to make money. This whole enterprise is built on the student experience. And that experience has grown in what we do.”
McClelland said he’s not downplaying the financial component to what Tech could facer.
“Season tickets could go down, so there’s a financial component to this, yes. But it is the Tech experience to have the opportunity to go to games and those things,” he said. “We want to be able to deliver that when it’s safe and appropriate.”
C-USA formed the Future Planning Committee, a seven-person task force exploring money-saving options for members schools, back on March 26. McClelland along with Rice Athletic Director joe Karlgaard, Middle Tennessee AD Chris Massaro, UTEP AD Jim Senter, Old Dominion Athletic Director Wood Selig as well as UTSA athletic faculty representative and Charlotte senior women’s administrator make up the committee. They have met virtually close to 20 times in the last two months and is charged with forming official recommendations to send to the rest of Conference USA’s ADs before the board meeting for university presidents in early June.
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So far, the committed has reportedly looked at cost saving options like trimming regular-season schedules for some programs, changing championship tournaments to potentially decrease the number of teams that qualify as well as shortening the length of the formats.
Arguably the most notable reported discussions have been whether the league could compete based on divisions and conduct some home-and-homes during football season as well as whether or not C-USA could partner with other regional leagues to form scheduling alliances and if it’s possible that those contests to be counted as conference competition.
The group is still working through myriad of options, but McClelland did say that he didn’t think it were possible for Conference USA to run home-and-homes or teams play teams in different conferences and it count toward league play even in a cost-saving case.
“I think that’s just pie in the sky. I don’t think that would even work. It’s not realistic and it’s very problematic with football,” McClelland said. “Heck, we’ve got games scheduled out to 2032. It’s not like other sports, which you schedule from year-to-year and you have the ability to change the format quicker. There’s so much value in those games. Now, that doesn’t mean we can’t get out of them, but for the whole system to move forward that way, it’s not practical.
“There are other ways within sports to save money. It’s not just simply how you schedule and who you play, there’s other things we can do to create efficiencies and cost savings.”
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The reality is that each school within Conference USA will ultimately at its own decision that’s most efficient for it within how it operates its individual sports. Last week, ODU’s athletic director lofted the question of whether it would be better to not have football season this year.
When he looks at Louisiana Tech’s current situation, McClelland said he believes football will happen and having the season is the most optimal result.
“I think each school has its different set of pressures and stresses. That doesn’t mean what (Selig) said not valid or applicable to them. But that’s not applicable to me,” McClelland said. “I’m not in position to make that statement.”
For McClelland, his major concern is cutting too deep as he and his department sift through the best ways to cut back costs. The money is crucial, but it can’t be at the top priority for Tech.
“How do you reconcile between cutting and maintaining and understanding? You can’t do something so damaging that it kills the organism and it can’t do what it’s meant to do,” he said. “Where’s that happy medium? Conferences can’t solve budget issues at every school; the schools are doing that. It’s up to them how they’re continuing to exercise those issues.”
“We’re locked and loaded. We’re ready, and when it’s safe to do so, we’re going to do it. We may not make as much money. But we’ve made a promise to students on campus, and we plan to deliver that experience to them.”