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Pandemic creates uncertainty for student-athletes, coaches, executives

The Minnesota men's tennis team was cut due to the coronavirus disease’s (COVID-19) financial effects. – Photo by Facebook

Throughout the past few months, the college sports landscape has looked different. The coronavirus disease (COVID-19) has forced numerous athletic programs to adapt to an online world, abandoning traditional practices for video calls and virtual training sessions.

As the pandemic has dragged on, many college programs across the country have recently been disbanded or discontinued. These cuts have affected thousands of individuals, ranging from administrators and team managers to the student-athletes themselves, all of whom now have to deal with the fallout of losing their careers and future ambitions. 

Financially, the pandemic has strained many programs to their breaking point. With no access to tournaments or in-person events, many schools had no opportunity to generate funds. Typically, National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) competitions, such as the men’s basketball and women’s volleyball tournaments, create lots of revenue.

This season, some of these tournaments have been pushed back until mid-2021, with the NCAA canceling many of them altogether. Of the schools that began hosting games, many restricted their athletic programs to shortened seasons, with limited or perhaps even no fan attendance, further limiting their revenue streams.

The solution to this situation for many schools has been to eliminate teams and their constituents. 

But the removals haven’t only been for small universities. Approximately 80 Division I athletic programs no longer exist, including many sports offered by institutions such as Stanford and Iowa. For the Minnesota men’s tennis team, this news of their season ending came abruptly. 

“I had absolutely no idea,” said Kaleb Dobbs. “All that happened was we got an email saying we needed to be on a Zoom call in 45 minutes and it was going to be with our athletic directors, and we had no idea what it was going to be about.”

For many student-athletes, the cuts have forced them to adapt in various ways, including transferring to a different school or abandoning their athletic hopes to remain on campus.

Coaches and athletic directors have been similarly affected, with many losing their jobs and having to find another position at a different program. 

In response to the rapidity and suddenness by which schools announced their cuts, student assemblies and coaches’ unions across these schools have outlined presentations demanding clarity and better communication between the administrations and the athletic programs.

Few schools had discussed plans of eliminating programs with the coaches and student-athletes, and had instead gone ahead and terminated them without notice. 

“Now, therefore, be it resolved, that the Student Assembly of the College of William and Mary: Vehemently opposes the manner in which this incredibly tumultuous decision was conveyed to student-athletes and finds it appalling that our long-standing concerns regarding transparency and increased communication have still not been addressed,” said the resolution put forth by William and Mary, a school that has seen the loss of seven programs, including men and women’s swimming, gymnastics and track and field. 

Many of these schools are now forced to respond to student-athletes’ grievances and put out a more informative timeline of the future.

Alumni who feel tied to the organizations have also joined the cause to push back, offering donations and hosting fundraisers to keep the programs afloat until a more permanent solution is established.

Lindsay Takkunen, a former swimmer for East Carolina, recently spoke about the ongoing initiative to restore the men’s and women’s swimming teams at that university. 

“It’s worth the fight (due to) the experience we had,” she said. “We’re stuck. So we just keep plugging away until we decide that’s it. But we’re still there now.” 

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