WESTWOOD, CA – OCTOBER 10: UCLA Bruins during practice at the Mo Ostin Basketball Center on the … [+] campus of UCLA on Thursday, Oct. 10, 2019 in Westwood, California. (Photo by Keith Birmingham/MediaNews Group/Pasadena Star-News via Getty Images)
MediaNews Group via Getty Images
June is usually a slow month on college campuses. Enrollment managers and student life professionals are typically counting heads, making plans for mandatory orientation sessions, and planning welcome weeks. Athletic departments are planning their slate of day and overnight sports camps and counting the revenues toward paying staff members.
But this June is a month unlike any other in the history of higher education; this June, the decision whether to go online, in person or with some hybrid/flex combination will be solidified. Take a look at the Chronicle of Higher Education’s first-of-its-kind updates on what colleges and universities have communicated about their intentions as of Memorial Day:
- 65% are planning for in-person classes;
- 11% are considering a range of scenarios;
- 10% are waiting to decide;
- 6% are proposing a hybrid model;
- 6% are planning to go online exclusively.
What’s holding them up? June. June promises to deliver a sobering, cold-water-on-your-face reality check for college presidents and their boards. Here are the dominoes that will fall in June:
- Paid deposit deadlines that were extended from May are due June 1. From there, colleges can make better plans around summer “melt”—how many might make a last-moment decision not to come. (Note: Most schools won’t know their true tuition revenues until after the census count, taken about one-third of the way through the fall term.)
- State budgets will be set for the upcoming year, and the full financial bloodletting will become obvious to chief financial officers; presidents and others will absorb the results of their lobbying and pleas to state legislatures (and it likely will still be a hit ranging from 15% to 20%).
- Athletic conference decisions will be finalized about sports sponsorships, postseason opportunities, non-conference opponents and travel by the end of June.
- Also clear will be the decision—is it worth “investing” in athletics at all if it’s presumed to be a financial loss? Can we afford to bring all fall sports back to campus? Some? Schools will know this at the end of the month.
- The costs of safety will become clear, meaning the impact of social distancing measures, testing frequency, quarantine spaces and contact tracing for thousands of students, employees and visitors—all are new expenses for budgets already stretched thin.
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PHILADELPHIA, PA – MARCH 10: The Princeton Tigers stretch before a shoot around practice in … [+] preparation for the Ivy League tournament at The Palestra on March 10, 2017 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Corey Perrine/Getty Images)
Football, men’s and women’s basketball athletes are permitted to return to campus for voluntary workouts beginning June 1. For example, the Ames (Iowa) Tribune noted the very real challenges the Iowa State University sports medicine staff is facing right now as the athletes return next week.
“Everyday testing is not going to happen,” Mark Coberly, associate athletics director for sports medicine, said. “Athletics teams are not going to be testing regularly until regular testing is available to the public. The cost of testing is extremely high—that’s going to have to be factored in as well. I think the billion dollar question that’s out there and the NCAA has said it already, we’re going to have to have testing available to be able to safely return, but nobody has defined that yet of what that is because nobody knows.
Marshall Auditorium, Roberts Hall, Haverford College, Haverford, Pennsylvania, USA. (Photo by: … [+] Education Images/UIG via Getty Images)
©Glasshouse Images / Spencer Jones
“What you’re doing outside of these walls is probably more important than what we’re doing inside of these walls, because that’s when the exposure is going to go up if you don’t practice these mitigation strategies. That’s what’s going to keep everybody else in the program safe as well.”
This return to campus “voluntary practice” pilot study will tell athletic departments a great deal about two things by the end of June—what more do we need to do to keep our employees and athletes safe, and how much will it cost?
Come September, and if Memorial Day weekend was any indication, social distancing was, and could continue to be, a challenge for thousands of people who haven’t seen each other in awhile. Should we expect our campuses to be any different?
This tragedy has blessed us with insight into the future. We have known that higher education and college athletics have been on a financial bubble for some time. The choices made this June will lay the groundwork for the foreseeable future.
My take? Watch what happens in states like Wisconsin, North Carolina and Texas. If the coronavirus numbers keep going up, look for the 65% choosing “in person” classes to drop substantially.
Also, the Ivy League presidents will meet in June. They were the first to decide to suspend winter championships back in March (followed quickly by Duke University, whose President, Vincent Price, is a former provost at the University of Pennsylvania). Harvard Medical School has already announced they will go all online in the fall. Could they lead the way again? Stay tuned.
For more insight and discussions into college sports’ return in the age of Covid-19, please join me on my podcast “Trustees and Presidents-Managing Intercollegiate Athletics,” available wherever you get your podcasts.