On a daily basis, Texas Southern athletic director Kevin Granger is in and out of meetings dealing with critical issues like the budget, academic life for his student-athletes and fundraising, of course.
But for nearly two years now, the worldwide pandemic and keeping his student-athletes, coaches and support staff safe from the spread of COVID-19 has seemed to be a nonstop, 24-hours a day endeavor. Granger has guided the athletic department through the challenges of the potentially deadly virus, while coming up with protocols and guidelines to keep his department rolling.
Like all athletic departments across the country, TSU has had its share of issues with the virus, whether it was shutting down competition as the men’s basketball team was ready to leave for March Madness in 2020 or the abbreviated spring football schedule in 2021 when only a couple of the games were actually played because so many were infected with the virus.
But things turned around this fall with the football team getting to play a full, uninterrupted schedule. Now this winter, with the rapid spread of the more contagious Omicron variant of COVID-19 shutting down competition across the nation, both the Tigers men’s and women’s basketball programs have had to miss their share of games, but not because of issues within their respective programs.
The Defender sat down recently with Granger to discuss the hold COVID-19 seems to have on the entire sports world and what he and his athletic department has done to keep their student-athletes safe and as healthy as possible.
Defender: What is it like to still be continuing this fight nearly two years later?
Granger: It’s adjusting again to COVID. We understood going into his sporting season that COVID wasn’t gone. Obviously, we didn’t think it would ramp back up there to the level it has because of the new variant that is out there.
Everybody is adjusting now and kind of reconditioning themselves, like starting COVID over with the new variant. We are making the adjustments on our end to make sure our student-athletes remain safe and as healthy as possible.
Most of our athletes have both vaccines and… many of them already have the booster, as well.
Defender: Can you talk about what the TSU athletic department is doing to keep its student-athletes as safe and as healthy as they’ve been?
Granger: Obviously, we try to educate the student-athlete. We try to make sure they keep their masks on. We do that as administrators and coaches by leading by example. I still wear my mask all of the time because COVID is still here.
We try to educate our student-athletes to make sure they are wearing their masks all the time, make sure they don’t gather with large groups, wash their hands and carry around hand sanitizer. And obviously we try to monitor them and we have a testing site on campus. We are able to jump on it quickly if somebody is showing any symptoms. We are able to isolate them as fast as we can so that we can control the situation and not let it spread.
A lot of it is luck, too. I can plan a perfect way where we are controlling it. Some of it gets to be totally luck.
Defender: Both the men’s and women’s basketball teams are obviously into their SWAC seasons now, but both programs had some big non-conference games canceled due to COVID-19 protocols with the opposing sides, and there has been a decision not to attempt to make those games up. Why is that?
Granger: This is the most important time for us as a university, in conference. We want to make sure we are available and don’t have any hiccups. We go out there and play someone in non-conference that could jeopardize conference play, so we don’t want to take that chance.
Defender: Speaking of the SWAC, what are your thoughts on the new conference forfeit guidelines, which basically hands the team that is sick an automatic loss, and in the event that both teams don’t have the minimum seven players and one healthy coach to play, then both suffer forfeits?
Granger: You should be able to manage it and get through the season with the new guidelines. We don’t have any mid-week games. So, if somebody is going down, you are boing down probably on a Tuesday so you could almost come back Saturday night. It gives you a lot more flexibility now to make sure you should have enough to play the games.
Defender: How are you approaching the rest of the year knowing the virus is wreaking havoc on the sports world and scheduling?
Granger: We don’t anticipate our program being shut down again. We have gone through the bad, if you want to say. We made sure we kind of paused things to get things under control. We felt like we did it in enough time to prepare us for conference where we wouldn’t have any issues going into conference play.