Shane Lyons says managing risk is key to return of football

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — The landscape of college athletics could be altered for a period of time long after the effects of the pandemic have dissipated. The urgent and pressing question about the prospects of an on-time start to the 2020 football season continues. But many smaller sports could face significant impacts as well.

WVU Director of Athletics Shane Lyons delved into the macro and micro views on the ‘3 Guys Before the Game’ podcast Thursday.

Ten weeks have passed since college sports were shutdown in the middle of the Big 12 Conference basketball tournaments. Working remotely has become the norm rather than the exception for administrators as well as coaches.

“I never heard of ‘Zoom’ until March 15th maybe, or ‘Teams’. I feel like all I do is look at a computer screen at this point,” Lyons said.

The NCAA cleared the way for conferences and individual schools to allow their student-athletes to return to campus on June 1. Lyons says there could be a wide range on when state and local authorities allow campuses across the country to reopen.

“That is permissive legislation. That doesn’t mean they have to return. It is the policy of your state, your local government, your campus. So all of us are going to be on different timelines with that. Obviously conferences can make their own rules as well.

“We are not ready here yet for June 1st, I can tell you that. We have already dealt with our medical team. We look like we will probably be in the middle of the month. There is a phase in process. That is not flipping the switch and saying here’s four hundred athletes coming back to campus. Protocols from testing to cleaning, all of that is going to have to be put in place.”

As conversations among the ‘Power 5’ conferences continue, there is a possibility not all 65 programs will be able to start the football season on time based on what state and local authorities allow.

“There is going to be that fork in the road saying who is with us and who is not.

“The big fork in the road is when do we start actual practice, coming back for football in July and August. That’s the date we all have to agree upon. We can’t start on July 15th and everybody else starts on August 1. That’s a disadvantage.”

The likelihood of football stadiums filled to or anywhere near capacity continues to dwindle. Schools across the country are looking at models for what reduced attendance could look like.

“What happens if we tape off these seats to be six feet apart? Is it our responsibility to go down and police that? Honestly, I am not sure we want to get into that as a department.”

New realities for olympic sports?

As some schools, like Syracuse University, look at new calendars for the fall semester, NCAA fall sports could follow suit. Campuses are looking at ‘accelerated’ calendars which would halt on-campus instruction just prior to Thanksgiving.

“There’s a possibility we can move up all NCAA (fall) championships before Thanksgiving (for olympic sports). Normally all those happen around Thanksgiving or afterwards. That hypothetical question is starting to come.”

West Virginia University finds itself in a unique position where every Big 12 Conference road trip involves airline travel. Lyons acknowledges that regional scheduling could be emphasized in the future.

“It has given all of us a chance to take a step back as athletic directors and really look at budgets and start asking of us questions why we are doing this or that.

“Let’s be transparent, football and basketball, that’s why conferences were formed. I am flying a volleyball team, a soccer team halfway across the country. Is that really the right thing to be doing in those sports or should there be more regionalized competition?”

Regular seasons could also be shortened. Division II has enacted similar measures for the 2020-2021 academic year.

“By taking away ten percent of the games, is that really going to impact that student-athlete? Maybe they do have a little more time to be a student other than being on the fields or courts.”

Two weeks ago, Lyons announced staff reductions and furloughs throughout the athletic department.

“I was asked when we made the reductions, what happens to your rainy day fund? I’m like, this isn’t rainy day, this is Noah’s Ark fund. Some conferences aren’t looking at this as one year. They are looking at two to four to get back healthy. It is not going to be an overnight situation.

“We have a risk now, which is the virus. How are we going to manage it? That’s the hypotheticals we have each and every day. We can’t just stop. I think we did that for a while with everything we did. But America is ready to start back up again.”





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