College athletics working to figure out next steps

College sports moves forward in limbo

RICHMOND, Va. (WWBT)- College athletics has come to a halt, as has much of the money that funds it. Colleges and universities all across the country are figuring out what's next, and student-athletes, potential recruits and coaches all have questions about what the future holds.

"They're just looking for all the answers that we all are," said Richmond director of athletics John Hardt. "It's really unprecedented and unsettling not to have the answers to those questions."

“What is scheduling going to look like next year, what is travel going to look like next year,” VCU athletic director Ed McLaughlin added about some of the questions he’s been getting. “A lot of our coaches’ concerns are, are our sports safe?”

Men's soccer at the University of Cincinnati was not. The school announced on April 14 that it was discontinuing that program "during this time of profound challenges and widespread uncertainty" surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic. Could the same thing happen at VCU or Richmond?

"Cutting sports has never been a question, never been a consideration, nor will it be going forward for us," said McLaughlin of VCU's plans. The Rams sponsor 17 varsity sports, while McLaughlin points out that other schools sponsor 22-24.

"It's way too early for us to be considering things like eliminating sports," Hardt added regarding the Spiders' stance. "We have taken this whole set of matters very seriously."

The University of Richmond has put a freeze on hiring and raises and has introduced budget reductions for the coming academic year. Hardt has taken a voluntary salary cut for the upcoming year and many of his highest-compensated coaches followed suit, stepping forward to offer the same.

"I just can't tell you what that leadership means to me and also for the department," the Spider AD applauded. "It was a great time and great leadership for those guys to step up the way that they did."

As for VCU, the university also has a hiring and salary lock in place. When it comes to anything further, like temporary pay reductions, furloughs or limits on athletic spending, McLaughlin says nothing is impossible.

"If we can make sure we don't negatively impact the student-athlete experience, I think everything else has to be on the table. We all have to be able to say 'we're going to make some sacrifices.'"

In a pandemic that's creating change almost daily, both athletic directors are keeping open minds and have numerous contingency plans in place as things continue to shift everywhere from on-campus to nationwide.

"You have to be very open-minded and I think you have to be a little bit creative," said Hardt. "Right now we're looking at a number of scenarios, I couldn't really enumerate how many, but I can tell you they're multiple."

"We just don't know," added McLaughlin. "We're going to have to make some good decisions for now and know that in three weeks it could be completely different, and we may have to change course and that's OK too."

Something that VCU does not have that many other schools do is football, and McLaughlin says that has helped. The Rams can manage their revenue differently than football schools and they don’t have to rely on football-related funds.

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