One week removed from the NCAA’s decision to cancel its men’s and women’s basketball tournaments, spring sports and indefinitely suspend other organized team activities, Washington State Athletics Director Pat Chun spoke with reporters on a Friday afternoon conference call to discuss how the changes have impacted student-athletes in Pullman, as well as the financial impact and what the cancellations mean for upcoming events such as spring football camp or the Pro Day that was scheduled for April 1.
Below is a full transcript of the conference call.
With spring break ending soon, are you encouraging student-athletes to stay home right now?
Chun: “We’ve communicated, actually sent a communication out to our student-athletes last night. We are encouraging them to stay wherever their permanent residence is, at least for the time being. Obviously we’re fully aware that we’ll have some students that Pullman is going to be the best place for them. But for the time being, especially because we have no organized team activities and really don’t have a start date in the foreseeable future and having gone to distance learning as a campus, that if at all possible we’re asking them to stay at home until further notice.”
Is there any update on spring football and do you guys have a drop-dead date for when you’d have to cancel, if necessary?
Chun: “I don’t know if there’s a drop date or a cancel date. I know it’s not going to be in the format of what we’re all used to, especially where we’re at today, especially in the state of Washington. I think for us, it’s just, there’s no rush because we don’t even know when we can restart it, and then how far down the road it is. All of our coaches and all of our coaches’ meetings, we’ve been preparing our coaches to just really think about what the new normal could look like and if that means for our fall sports, not practicing til June or July, that’s a reality. At the end of the day, sports are secondary to what’s going on in the world right now. We have to do our job to flatten this curve. We have to practice social distancing, we’ve got to be responsible citizens. So really all of our messaging to our student-athletes is centered around being a good citizen and social distancing, and that’s where our focus is right now because all the other stuff is secondary based on what’s going on in the world.”
I’m curious to get your thoughts on this whole event. What have you guys learned in what you guys can take away from this whole thing?
Chun: “Well, it’s been surreal. If you think, we’ve had Pac-12 calls every day since we last left Las Vegas and it just dawned on me, we were in Las Vegas eight days ago waking up, thinking we have a second game in the Pac-12 Tournament. Like anything in life, adversity brings out the best and worst in people and it’s just reassuring to see our university and how it planned in a lot of preliminary work to where we can go to distance learning, make some decisions sooner or later. It’s really a testament to President Schulz and his leadership to guide us through this time. At the end of the day, sports is secondary to life and especially within a university setting, the academic mission always is the priority. So if anything, it’s been pretty eye-opening to see how well this university communicates, even for us in athletics. How decisions are made, how they’re communicated with us and how that allows us to do our jobs. At least in Pullman where we’re at, this is home for a bunch of us here and seeing our community rally around these small businesses that are going to struggle during these times and trying to adapt to a segment of students that Pullman is home to them and how do we make this a place where they can operate and be of health from a mind and body standpoint. So, a lot of things, a lot of balls swirling in the air, but it’s been reassuring to see how from my vantage point, how Washington State’s reacted to this.”
How have the student-athletes reacted, especially the ones who are missing time, missing games?
Chun: “Only because of timing, because both teams were in town because of competition. I sat through basically our season-ending meetings, which are very brief with our baseball and rowing teams last week. Baseball is a program that has struggled the last couple years and this probably didn’t get noticed, but they sent a loud statement to the athletic department, they had above a 3.0 in the fall and from a culture standpoint they were getting their act together and they got off to a really good start. When I addressed the team, I happened to catch a glimpse of AJ Block, who’s our starting senior catcher who got drafted last year and although he won’t say it, I’m guessing he didn’t have the greatest experience his first three years, or at least the experiences that were promised to him. But he bought in to what the new coach was trying to deliver, he was a key cog to this and knowing he came back – he’s a 4.0, he’s an engineer student – knowing how much he put into this, and he got drafted. So, knowing that he wasn’t going to be able to finish the year out, those are the tough discussions. And you’ve got a bunch of competitive young people that, our student-athletes are no different than most student-athletes around the country when you see the success soccer had. Football had a quote unquote down year and yet they made a bowl game. You saw basketball turn things around and our spring sports wanted their time to shine and show all the work they put in from fall on, so those are the tough things. But at the end of the day, this is what we talked about, this is an opportunity for us to grow, learn and figure out how to be great citizens and do our part to know, hey, there are bigger things than sports and right now the world needs us to be great citizens and this is the one takeaway we all have to have from this.”
With the NCAA tournament canceled, is there an amount of money you’ve been getting from the Pac-12 for an allotment that you’re not going to get? And with the scholarship issue in the spring sports coming back, there’s obviously more money that’s going to be dumped into those scholarships, is there a plan on where that money’s supposed to come from?
Chun: “Well, we’re working on that now. There’s a reality that when the tournament was canceled, it’s bigger than just a tournament canceled because that is the economic engine for the NCAA and that affects all three divisions, not just the Pac-12 and Division I. Our distribution is going to be impacted from the NCAA and even from the Pac-12 standpoint, what we get from the Pac-12 Networks is going to be impacted because of the number of events that aren’t going to be televised. So, we’re in the process of trying to model some budgets and we don’t know when this is going to end. We’re all realists, that this could end in the fall and if that does, how does that impact us? So, we don’t have any concrete numbers yet, we also know there’s going to be impact, where that lands we’ll have to prepare for that.”
What are your thoughts about extending players’ eligibility for another season?
Chun: “Well, the hope is we always want to do what’s best for our student-athletes and big picture, for our spring sports, for the teams and the sports that lost a vast majority of their competitive season, I’m an advocate for that. As for how that looks, how we get there, that’s a whole different story. But specifically for the spring sports, there is a part of me that has a lot of empathy for the seniors in all of our spring sports. Hopefully we can figure out as an industry, if they want the opportunity – not everyone’s going to take advantage of it, but if they wanted the opportunity to come back and play another year and had an academic reason to come back or an academic opportunity like grad school, then it’d be something we could help facilitate.”
How about the undergraduates?
Chun: “Well, hopefully they’re all coming back too. Like I said, anyone – my original statement was anyone who lost the year, but I just said I have extra empathy for our seniors specifically. Because I looked at seniors in two different meetings where they’re effectively done and that’s tough to swallow for anybody.”
Have you had any conversations with spring sport coaches or seniors about who might want to come back next year?
Chun: “It’s so new, we haven’t even got to a place where any rules have been formed for change, so I think right now we’re at kind of a triage mode. We’re more worried about what does Monday look like, we’ve been trying to inventory what student-athletes are coming back or aren’t coming back. Probably the most daunting thing in front of us is this distance learning, online learning. Not only do we have a bunch of student-athletes, although some of them do have online classes, there’s a vast majority that have not done online learning. The other reality is we have professors on campus that have not taught in that type of format, so the academic piece of this is the most important piece. So, right now the priority is all right, make sure we’re communicating with our student-athletes, make sure that from a virtual meeting, whether it’s Zoom, FaceTime, conference call, whatever it is, that we’re talking to our student-athletes and making sure we’re working together for the ones that are going to struggle with distance learning. What are we going to do to help them moving their academics forward?
And now that sports are in offseason, what had the department’s communication to the coaches been about how to communicate with recruits and their athletes and the day to day operations?
Chun: “Well, right now we’re in a dead period. An NCAA-mandated dead period to the middle of April, so that’s taken care of the recruiting piece. We’ve had multiple meetings with our head coaches via zoom and really right now the only talk with our coaches – and they’ve been doing it on their own anyway, they don’t need to be told this – we just want to make sure they’re in constant communication with all of our student-athletes, just because this is a change. A way of life is a big change for anybody, let alone a college kid. So we just want to make sure we’re in constant communication with them, making sure whatever questions, things that make them pause, things that bring any concern that we’re available to answer.”
Those 15 spring practices, especially for a football team with a brand new coach, have you gotten any guidance on whether those could take place in the summer once hopefully this is all over?
Chun: “Well right now as you know, what’s mandated to us federally and through the state of Washington supersedes anything from the NCAA. So right now ,we’re just all more focused on what can we do to flatten this curve so we don’t overwhelm this health system. Those are questions that will be answered, but where we sit today, there are other priorities going on. We’re one of those schools, and there’s a percentage of them, that did not have one spring practice yet and has a new coach. Ironically, I think the three Pac-12 schools with the new head coaches are the three schools that have not had a spring practice yet, so the reality is there’s a bigger issue going on right now. There’s some things that need to be settled with our winter sports and spring sports that probably demand our attention right now and this academic piece demands our attention. Right now, restarting, there’s no date in the foreseeable future in which we can that we can start. So those discussions will happen at the appropriate time.”
Do you expect to have to postpone or cancel your April 1 Pro Day?
Chun: “Well, the NFL has grounded all their scouts. So, by rule of the NCAA if there’s no scouts here, we won’t be able to do it. And with whatever travel limits there’s going to be, right now there are no plans to do it.”
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