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Pandemic hits sport hard

Pandemic hits sport hard

Neil Sullivan October 23, 2020

Q: What has been the effect of COVID-19 on Dayton Flyer athletic programs?

A: This is a challenging time to be a mass-gathering institution — not just for athletics but for the University as a whole. Much more than many activities, however, athletics (with exceptions of a few aerial view of Kless soccer practice complex with the city of Dayton skyline in the backgroundsports such as golf, tennis, cross country) involves competitions with direct human contact. The experience of a team sport is hard to re-create without competition. These sports are not conducive to physical separation — neither for athletes nor for fans.

Q: How are Flyer athletes doing?

A: Their world has been flipped upside down. High-level athletes have never had this lack of structure and engagement with sports. We have been working to support their health and, to the extent possible, their engagement. Before the University’s COVID-19 alert status was raised, some teams were able to have limited action — with distancing and masks. Even seeing groups of two or four soccer players on a soccer field was great.

“Their world has been flipped upside down.”

Q: What ongoing effects will there be on the student-athletes?

A: We all deal with adversity for a short period. But when a month becomes two, becomes three, becomes six … a top-level athlete doesn’t take six months off. That can affect the individual’s fitness level and the dynamics of the team.

Q: What about fans?

A: We are constantly seeking fan feedback. We had the Business Research Group of the University’s School of Business Administration conduct a survey of our men’s basketball season ticket holders. The response rate was great — more than 70%. Most sports fans buy a ticket and get entertainment in return. Ours have a different relationship.

“Most sports fans buy a ticket and get entertainment in return. Ours have a different relationship.”

Q: The situation may change before UD Magazine goes to press and the traditional start of basketball season arrives but, as of now, what can you say about opportunities to watch Flyer basketball this year?

A: It’s a challenging situation. Some programs can look at not selling individual game tickets and at spreading out season ticket holders. In the UD Arena, all but about the last four rows of seats go to season ticket holders. Last season we ranked 23rd in the nation in attendance with a record-setting average of 13,364 fans per game. State guidelines that were released as high schools were preparing for their 2020-21 season would limit us to 300 fans.

Q: Among the hits to the University’s budget was the cancellation last spring of March Madness. How much of an effect does basketball have on the athletics budget?

A: Basketball generates $15 million to $17 million annually. Although athletics receives generous University support, most of its income is commercially generated — ticket sales, concessions, rentals, corporate participation, media rights. And, to be viable, we need philanthropic support.

Q: Has there been a reduction in expenses?

A: We’ve cut a lot. Like the rest of the University this summer, we had furloughs — dozens, including some assistant coaches. Without fall sports, there is no travel for those athletes. Whether they can play in the spring is uncertain. There is no staff travel, no off-campus recruiting.

Q: How do coaches recruit?

A: Zoom. Phone calls as permitted. Drone footage. That’s great but seeing the campus in person is a big factor in any student’s decision to attend. Some things we’ve learned may stay with us.

Q: What is the major challenge now for Dayton athletics?

A: We need to find ways to advance. Every year presents a challenge. But, if one looks at where we were last year and where we are now, this challenge is major. Last academic year saw the completion of the Arena renovation, record attendance, championships in volleyball and in men’s and women’s basketball. The men were expected by many to be a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament. Now, with the pandemic, our world is different.

Q: Any final thoughts?

A: I do want to leave readers of University of Dayton Magazine with one clear point. We believe in the importance of athletics. But the institution as a whole has primacy. We could hardly complain about not being able to play while the students were learning remotely. It’s about academics, the broader UD institution and the community first.

Editor’s note: In September, the NCAA set Nov. 25 as the first day on which basketball games could be played as well as reducing the maximum number of games. For schedule and updates, see DaytonFlyers.com.

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