LAKELAND, Fla. – Prior to 2020, thousands of National College Athletic Association (NCAA) athletes were gearing up for their upcoming seasons of competitions. Many expected to be competing for titles, scholarships, and notoriety within their respective sports. What they got, instead, was a pandemic that put their college athletic career in jeopardy.
A few months later, 352 athletic programs were cut within the NCAA to save money and preserve the future of college athletics within their respective institutions. Potential Olympic athletes took the biggest hit as the majority of these sports were a part of the Olympics.
The reduction of these athletic programs meant the loss of potential revenue and scholarships in the affected programs. Considering Division one programs, one would never expect Stanford University, Clemson University, or the University of Texas to make substantial budget adjustments. Yet, financial hardships are still at hand.
While these adjustments seem necessary, anyone could question the decision-making process of an already obtuse athletic association. Texas, for example, recently cut its track and field program. The average track and field program estimates around $5 million to compete at a national level.
Before doing so, Texas bought out their former football head coach, Tom Herman, for $15 million. Following Hermans exit, they proceeded to hire a new head coach, Steve Sarkisian. His contract was a multi-year deal, worth up to $34 million.
One could argue that programs in the NCAA suffered greatly due to the pandemic canceling every event. Others would say these already greedy programs are mishandling the finances they are collecting after their earned revenue shares each season.
However, what about small programs outside of the NCAA? The NAIA is another athletic association built around smaller college athletics. Southeastern University, an NAIA program in the Sun Conference, is coming off two instances where they saw national championships for indoor track and field and wrestling.
Drew Watson, having been an Athletic Director at SEU for quite some time, has never experienced anything like the pandemic.
“I think like many programs across the board, there’s nothing we’ve faced that’s quite like Covid. It was a very unfortunate time with the George Floyd murder happening at the same time. If it were just Covid, I believe everything would have been easier, but having two universal events like this made the situation more difficult to handle,” explained Watson.
Hundreds of universities saw cuts within athletic departments. This was never an option for the longtime AD.
“There was no discussion about cutting any sport. I never thought about removing any sports for a second”.
Watson also mentioned how universities very well could have used COVID-19 to remove any sport they were not heavily invested in rather than the university itself struggling to make ends meet.
Despite the worries going into the season, Southeastern and the Sun Conference were the only conference to make it through fall sports without cancellation. During this period, SEU witnessed multiple cross-country championships, a title contender in football, competitive soccer, and so forth.
This did not come without its struggles. Though, from August to October, Southeastern experienced multiple covid scares with different teams coming down with the virus. Play was affected to the point that the men’s soccer team showed up to a game against Webber International University with nine missing players.
Even with the few COVID scares, Southeastern has proven successful with COVID prevention, tracing and pursuing normalcy on a college campus. “I’m so proud of the way we have handled everything. We have struck balance with normal life.” Watson noted.
Athletes across the globe will look to find new homes this year with the sudden loss of their programs. Smaller schools with less resources could be potential landing spots for now free agent college athletes.
Southeastern has certainly made the country aware of their commitment to athletes and the continuation of their programs. Incoming students would certainly be happy to hear of the normal campus the fire will bring back next semester and beyond 2021.
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