OU continues to navigate pandemic
Oklahoma athletic director Joe Castiglione was back addressing the media via teleconference for the first time in four weeks as the university continues to adapt to the repercussions of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.
Here are some of the noteworthy items he discussed in the hour-long call.
‘Timeline set by medical experts’
Start with the obvious. There were a lot of hypotheticals thrown Castiglione’s way. Such as how late is too late before a complete college football season could be completed? What would be the challenges of an altered college football calendar? Could he imagine games without fans in the stands?
All valid questions without anything close to legitimate answers at this time. Because as much as people would love to circle a date and say that’s when normalcy returns and this is how we’re going to attack it, it’s just not possible.
It’s called a moving target for a reason.
“That’s the challenge of this,” Castiglione said. “We haven’t had a specific model delivered to us yet as a prototype and then us to take it and try to figure out how to make it operable later down the road.
“We’re still trying to listen to the experts. We hear a lot of the same information you do. We have connections to our campus, to the medical health experts. We're not in charge of that timeline. That timeline will likely be set by medical experts as well as others who have the best insight into this.
“Every single decision, regardless of what it is, will always be made with the health, the welfare and the safety that we serve in mind. Always. And as much as we are all looking forward to the day that we can first see our athletes back on campus and get them back into some sort of routine, even though that process might be very gradual (rather) than just automatically back to normal... Whatever it ends up being, we want to get them back and are ready to be around them. But we'll only be able to do that when we know it's safe for them and safe for everybody that's involved.”
All options, possibilities are on the table and adjustments are being made on a daily basis, Castiglione said.
The plan remains to start to the academic year on time and everything that goes with, including all fall sports. But, obviously, that’s subject to change.
Keeping tabs on the coaches
So clearly nobody can predict the future, but Castiglione did give a glimpse as to what the present day-to-day operations are like for OU and its athletic department.
Not surprisingly, head football coach Lincoln Riley is someone Castiglione communicates with in some way each day, and Zoom has become an effective outlet for that face-to-face connection.
“In addition to my own university and/or staff meeting, I meet with coaches once a week as a group via Zoom,” Castiglione said. “And then I talk to any number of them multiple times during the week.
“In the case of football, I stay in touch with coach Riley sometimes multiple times during the day. Virtually every day we have connected if not had conversation about some of the experiences we've had in interacting with players and the coaching staff, recruiting. We're trying to figure out how we can help him and his staff as well as every other one of our head coaches.”
Castiglione said he has been pleased with the way OU coaches have used technology to not only keep in touch with their respective players, but also in terms of not slowing down at all on the recruiting trail.
Season ticket holders still supporting
When you break down one of the biggest impacts of the pandemic on a university level, season tickets and the support of donors is certainly something to circle.
Castiglione knows this and said the university has taken steps to do whatever it can to help in the process as everybody goes through their own trials and tribulations of COVID-19.
“We’ve tried to be flexible. Several weeks ago, we adjusted all of the deadlines and gave people more time to work through their season-ticket renewals or their annual contributions,” Castiglione said. “We’re working with how they are impacting their own financial situation. To this point, I’m pleased to say as of today we are a little over 70 percent of our donors and ticketholders renewing for next year. That’s positive.
“But I also realize that it may be a while before we know how much or how many of the other 30 percent decide they can renew. We’re grateful and thankful for all of them. We are constantly talking to them and interacting with them. If anything, we’re building stronger relationships.”
Not just home games, either. Castiglione mentioned the incredible interest for OU’s scheduled to Army this fall for a football game, saying it’s the demand is probably three times the number of tickets that will actually be available.
OU backing spring student-athletes
The NCAA ruled last week that all spring student-athletes could have their year of eligibility restored for the 2020-21 calendar year. There’s a lot of language in that, including providing the same scholarship money to a student-athlete next year or providing less.
While the NCAA is allowing this to occur and will allow teams to go over the scholarship limit, we’re finding out not all schools are going to be able to provide that service.
Wisconsin announced Thursday that it is telling its spring senior student-athletes to move on if they graduate after this school year. Schools will take different approaches, but Castiglione made it clear OU is in full support of giving all spring student-athletes that year back.
“We are supportive of providing the funding necessary for all of the student-athletes that decide to stay here for an additional year. We’ve made a plan for that,” he said. “I can’t tell you exactly how much that will cost us yet because we’re not 100 percent sure how many student-athletes will take advantage of that opportunity. But once we do, we’ll have a calculation.”
There’s some complexity to the issue and challenges, for sure. But the plan is to support whatever the OU coaches bring forward in terms of spring student-athletes deciding to stay or funding the scholarship up to the same amount of what was awarded for 2019-20.
Minimize negative economic impact
There are some schools who won’t be able to accommodate the spring student-athletes. There are other schools talking about staff layoffs and salary cuts.
That’s not being implemented at OU at this time, but Castiglione said there will obviously be some sort of hit to what’s happening with the pandemic for the university.
“I think, at a minimum, it’s going to impact us in a noticeable way,” Castiglione said. “Can I put a percentage on that right now? I hesitate to do that because it would just be a guess. I don’t know the rest of the equation. Nor do you, nor does anyone.
“To say that it’s not going to have any economic impact, that I believe would be grossly naïve. We’re just hoping to minimize it because one doesn’t know how much this affects the economy of all those that support our athletic programs or universities or businesses that are affected.”
Castiglione said he has seen a lot during his time at OU, both from a national and local and even campus level. He’s had a lot of experience of weathering rough storms. Certainly, nothing compares to this, but his belief is everybody will be made stronger when it’s all said and done and the good in humanity is showing through.
“We’re going to see the best of people really shine through this,” he said. “That part probably infuses energy in me unlike anything else.”
Original spring weekend plans?
Riley is definitely made the spring game weekend the place to be for the Sooners when it comes recruiting and different activities to get people excited.
That has included a high-profile musical act the last couple of years. Castiglione said they were close to signing another one for 2020’s edition, but it never reached that finalization stage.
“We were modeling a little different approach to the spring game this year,” Castiglione said. “Yes, we did stay open to having another musical act prior to the start of the spring game. We were also looking at playing the spring game late in the afternoon or evening. The short answer is no, we didn’t have a contract that we had to break, but we were very close to signing one.
“We also were working with Campus Corner merchants because we were going to do a version of what we’ve been doing before our first (home football game) – the concert on Campus Corner. Like a short version of a music festival – with a lot of other things going on – on that Friday night, and then have the game on late Saturday afternoon or evening.”
Castiglione did not specify who the musical act could have been for this year’s planned event.