by Andrew ElKadi ’23 (he/him/his)
The first dominoes fell in early July, when the Ivy and Patriot Leagues announced the cancellation of all fall sports in the face of COVID-19. Since then, the majority of NCAA Division I conferences have made the same decision to cancel or postpone their fall seasons, including the Atlantic 10.
In an interview with Davidson Director of Athletics Chris Clunie ‘06, the AD said that postponing fall sports was the most difficult decision that he has had to make since COVID-19 turned the college athletics landscape on its head back in March. Eventually, Davidson and the A10 ended up making the same decision regarding fall athletics as the conferences that jumped out of the gate early, but Clunie stressed the importance of “not [putting] the cart before the horse.”
He said that he and other A10 athletic directors “[held] out as long as [they] could to make decisions that were equitable and inclusive.” He also noted that considering athletes’ mental health and upholding the Davidson scholar-athlete experience held as much weight in the prolonged decision process as did physical health and well-being.
Even as teams with fall seasons are in the midst of the strangest semester in memory, they will not lose the chance to compete for a championship this academic year. In late August, the NCAA Division I Board of Directors announced that they would be hosting fall championships in Spring 2021.
“For all intents and purposes, we are playing sports in the spring,” Clunie said optimistically. “[Our fall teams] will be coming back in January ready to rock,” he added. The recent announcement that NCAA men’s and women’s basketball will be starting on November 25th is a light at the end of a long tunnel –- we’ll be having athletics at Davidson this semester.
Last March, as coronavirus cases surged in the U.S., the NCAA cancelled March Madness for the first time since the tournament’s inception in 1939. This wasn’t a cheap move by the NCAA, as they lost nearly a billion dollars with the NCAA Tournament’s cancellation, money that typically helps fund dozens of basketball conferences and each of those conferences’ member institutions.
A lot of budget-strained collegiate athletic departments across the country faced tough decisions over the last several months in the fallout of the Big Dance’s cancellation, and many teams across the country received the tough news that their programs were being cut, including eleven teams at Stanford University alone.
“It shows inequities across institutions,” Clunie said. “The NCAA puts a lot of eggs in the basketball basket, and you see how that model is flawed.”
Davidson is in a different boat than a lot of other institutions because of its relatively small athletic budget. According to Clunie, cutting sports would actually hurt Davidson, “We don’t have big budgets,” he said. “We operate so close to the margin that the impact [of COVID-19] has not been as significant for us.”
Elaborating on the financial situation related to athletics, Clunie said, “We don’t have full-scholarship programs outside of men’s and women’s basketball […] we have [athletes] that are full-pay.”
Elsewhere in the college sports landscape, major Division I football conferences have already begun or are set to begin play in the upcoming weeks. 40 schools around the country bring in over 100 million dollars in revenue a year from athletics, according to USA Today, and football is the breadwinner for those athletic departments by a large margin.
“Football is not a huge revenue-generating sport for us. We’re non-scholarship. The revenue we get from football ticket sales does not equate to sort of [running] the athletic program,” Clunie said. “Davidson is in a really unique place.”
We’re still a couple of months away from the tip-off of Davidson hoops, but in the meantime, Davidson’s athletic department is avoiding complacency.
“We’re going to continue to look at facilities, renovations, and upgrades and what we can do to support our scholar-athletes,” Clunie affirmed. “We’re not trying to survive [COVID-19]; we’re trying to thrive in it.”