Lima area colleges feel coronavirus uncertainty too

By Jim Naveau -

Their stadiums, arenas and budgets are smaller. Their revenue sources are different. Recruiting is different.

But small college athletic programs and the programs at the highest levels of college sports find themselves doing many of the same things during the shutdown of their spring sports teams because of the coronavirus. They’re dealing with uncertainty, planning for a variety of ways college athletics could resume, considering the possibility there could be no sports again in the fall, and hoping for the best.

That’s not easy. And neither was abruptly ending spring sports because of the coronavirus pandemic, Ohio Northern athletic director Tom Simmons said.

“Shutting down all of our sports is probably the worst day of my career when you look at students and tell them that. But their health and safety is the most important thing we can do,” he said.

“Definitely, the unknown is the biggest thing that is going on right now. We don’t know. This is unprecedented. I wish I had a crystal ball that was accurate because I wish I knew what was coming. There is so much planning to do but then the game changes every week.”

In this area, Ohio Northern University and Bluffton University are NCAA Division III schools. The University of Northwestern Ohio is an NAIA school.

While Ohio State is able to cover the cost of having 36 varsity teams mostly with the money it makes from television contracts and from football and men’s basketball tickets, ONU, Bluffton and UNOH pay for their sports teams with a budget that comes from the general university budget.

Ohio Northern has 23 sports teams. Around 650 of the university’s 3,100 students participate in a sport. Bluffton has 16 teams and UNOH has 14 teams.

The NCAA does allocate some of the money it makes on March Madness for Division III programs but it has already notified its member schools that those funds will be cut by nearly $22 million from $30 million to $10.7 million in Division III next school year because of the loss of this year’s Division I men’s basketball tournament.

“What effect will that have on the postseason and the things that we do? We don’t know,” Simmons said. “There are just so many things that are unknowns out there that we don’t know. We just have to be prepared and look for efficiencies and good ways of doing business that are better than the way we’re doing it now perhaps.”

The games have stopped but recruiting goes on by video and by phone.

“We have constant dialogue every day with people who are still on our rosters. Retention of your current players is a goal. And then there is the constant contact (with recruits) since you can’t really bring them on campus,” UNOH athletic director Chris Adams said.

“You want to make sure your recruits who told you they are coming are coming. It’s a two-fold process — retention of your current students and the attainment of kids who have already sort of committed even though you might not have signed them yet.”

Simmons said, “We are very busy in recruiting. We are still closing out the incoming freshman class, so this is a very busy time. But our coaches are also very deep into getting information out to the following class.”

Bluffton University athletic director Phill Talavinia says it’s too early to predict what college sports seasons might look like in the fall.

“Our conference, the Heartland Conference, has been meeting weekly on Zoom. Our presidents just had their annual spring meeting by Zoom. I think thus far it’s just been taking a wait and see approach,” he said.

Simmons said, “Our colleagues, especially in our conference, we’re talking all the time. We’ve been burning up the phone lines to each other. I’ve also been talking to people in other conferences. We all care about our kids and want to give them a good product.

“It will pretty much trickle down. It could be mandated by the NCAA how we start. We don’t know. When you watch what happened a month and a half ago, you just see that it starts at one level and then it hits all levels,” he said.

By Jim Naveau

Reach Jim Naveau at 567-242-0414.

Reach Jim Naveau at 567-242-0414.

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