COLUMBUS — New Ohio High School Athletic Association executive director Doug Ute believes there is a reasonably good chance the fall high school sports season can be completed.
That was one of several things that came out of Ute doing a teleconference and a Zoom conference with media members on Wednesday, one day after he was announced as the successor to Jerry Snodgrass as the OHSAA’s executive director.
Ute described himself as “pretty confident” and “pretty optimistic” the regular season and the postseason for fall sports will be able to finish their revised schedules and tournaments. And he said that unless there is a spike in coronavirus rates it is possible winter sports can begin around the time they normally do.
But he also said all that could change suddenly. “It’s a roller coaster. It could change quickly. We have to be ready for that change if it comes. Right now we’re full steam ahead on Day One in the winter but we’re at the mercy of the virus.”
One thing that could change regardless of an increase in coronavirus cases is where tournament games will be played.
With current restrictions put in place by Governor Mike DeWine and the state and local departments of health, crowds would not be nearly big enough to cover the cost of renting large arenas. And some facilities located at high schools or colleges which have traditionally hosted tournament games, might be unavailable because of coronavirus concerns.
“If you can have a maximum of 300 people or 15 percent (of capacity), what venues are you going to rent out? I am of the belief that particularly right now our athletes, parents and coaches just want to compete, so the venue won’t be as important as it has been in the past. We’ll look at all those types of things,” Ute said.
“I was just in a meeting with our sports management folks and that’s one thing we discussed, how we needed to have back-up plans. We are making back-up plans in case those sites become unavailable or with the size of the crowd it just doesn’t make sense financially for us to use those venues,” he said.
Ute has been superintendent of Newark City Schools for 11 years and was Marion Elgin’s superintendent for nine years before that. He also has been a teacher and coach at Buckeye Central High School and Noble Local Schools.
He is starting his new job at a time when the OHSAA is facing significant budget problems after the cancelation of last year’s boys and girls state basketball tournaments and the state wrestling tournament, along with greatly reduced crowds for this year’s football playoffs.
Ute thinks his years as an administrator have prepared him for that challenge.
“As a school superintendent and principal and even as an athletic director my background is that I’ve worked with budgets and stayed within the budgets. I’ve been fortunate in my time as a superintendent to only have had to ask for new (tax) money one time. I have extensive experience with budgets and the budget process and working within your means,” he said.
Ute called the OHSAA’s budget crisis “severe,” but does not think the organization is teetering on the edge of going out of existence.
“It is severe but I’m of the belief that we’re always going to have the Ohio High School Athletic Association, an organization in this state that will allow student-athletes to compete. We’ll just have to look at different things.
“The (OHSAA) office has already done some things to reduce expenditures. The board of directors and the office have made some moves financially to reduce expenditures.
“One of the things this organization has always been very proud of is that we’re one of the very few state associations that doesn’t charge a membership fee or an entry fee, which we’ve just instituted. We’ll be looking at those sorts of things going forward to where we’re not so reliant on gate receipts.
We’ll also explore other opportunities for revenue to come into the office,” he said.
“We have to look at this challenge and see what opportunities there are for us in it to reduce expenses and those types of things. We’re working very hard to determine those types of things so we can survive as an organization.”
Ute had planned to retire at Newark to take a position with the Buckeye Association of School Administrators at the end of December. He has been a longtime member of the Central District’s OHSAA Board and was very familiar with the OHSAA.
“When the position became open, I sought after the position not just because it would be a good fit for me personally but also because I thought I could bring a lot to the organization in terms of leadership and working with folks. This is the one opportunity where I felt this is a good fit for Doug Ute and Doug Ute is a good fit for the organization,” he said.
“I look back at how important extra-curricular activities were in my development as a student-athlete. Even though that has been 40 years ago I still remember those relationships and the things I learned from being involved on teams. I’ve always considered myself a coach, no matter if I have been a principal or superintendent, I was just coaching a different team. In Newark I was coaching 800 people and 6,500 students.”