SWAC navigating through COVID-19

As a NCAA Division I member, the Southwestern Athletic Conference is feeling the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic that has brought the sports world to a standstill.

SWAC commissioner Dr. Charles McClelland has had to guide his conference and member schools through this rather tumultuous time that has seen the NCAA cancel its lucrative men’s and women’s basketball tournaments, call off the entire spring sports schedule, announce that the 2020 payouts from the NCAA Tournament to all Division I conferences and schools have been reduced by $375 million and that that all student-athletes in spring sports have been granted an extra year of eligibility.

Each one of the decisions has rippling effects that will be felt by all institutions, including the Black college leagues that do not enjoy the extraordinary budgets as most of their contemporaries at the Division I level.

McClelland, who has the unique perspective of also having served as the athletic director at both Prairie View A&MN and Texas Southern, acknowledges the challenges ahead for any of his member institutions. McClelland recently talked with the Defender about the current landscape and how things might look as the SWAC navigates its way through.

Defender: What has been your message to your member schools at this point?

McClelland: I’m not quite sure we have a message that is any different than what’s already out there.  There are just so many unknowns when it comes to the conference perspective. We are just trying to bridge the gap with what is going on with the NCAA and the conversations that are going on there so that our schools will be knowledgeable on the front end of what’s being discussed, and have some say so and input as legislation starts coming. At this point we’re in a situation where everybody is trying to assess where we are and ultimately where we are supposed to go.

Our conference office’s services are still there. We are still processing paperwork, still processing waivers. Nothing has changed as far services from the conference office other than no sports are going on. We are also spending a lot of time trying to navigate what the new year is going to look like.

Defender: What are your thoughts on the NCAA’s recent decision to grant the extra year of eligibility to student-athletes of spring sports?

McClelland: I think the overall thought process was giving the student athletes and the institutions the greatest latitude possible. The ruling that was passed – the Division I Council passed it and is made up of members from all Division I institutions. Each conference has representatives on that committee so it’s actually the schools making the rules for the schools. They gave the greatest level of flexibility possible. So whatever decisions that needed to be made from an individual student-athletes standpoint they have options and the institutions will have options, as well.

Given the setup of circumstances, the flexibility they have given I applaud because each school, each conference will have different needs and this will allow them to be able to assess where they are and then do what’s best for them individual and for the student-athlete to do what is best for them.

Defender: You are starting to see stories coming out about bigger schools like Iowa State from bigger conference having cutbacks in the athletic departments, slashing salaries and bonuses, do you see this being an issue some of the SWAC schools may have to face at some point as a result of the coronavirus?

McClelland: I think every institution will feel some type of pain. I think what (Iowa State athletic director Jamie Pollard) did at Iowa State was right according to Jamie for Iowa State. There was another report that Kansas stated they are not in the same position as Iowa State. It’s going to be an individual member institution issue. What is going to be right for one school is not going to be right for another. But I think all member institutions will feel the pain financially. We have already seen it by the NCAA reducing its payout to the member institutions. All of that is going to roll down. It’s going to be less money, less tax revenue. So even with institutions in the state of Texas like Texas Southern and Prairie View, although they don’t get state money, the institutions are funded by state dollars. If the institution is funded by student enrollment and with enrollment down and tax dollars are down that means that the institutions are not going to get all that they get from the state. And those athletic programs are heavily subsidized. There are going to be financial issues but from a Southwestern Athletic Conference’s perspective the majority of our institutions don’t enjoy the same types of budgets as Iowa State so I think we are probably in a little bit better position to be able to deal with a lot of the cuts, just based on the fact our resources are so limited anyway. But when dealing with limited resources you don’t have a whole lot of room to cut so we will work diligently to try to help maneuver through those.

Defender: How are you approaching the fall sports schedule, particularly football, with all of this uncertainty?

McClelland: I think you have two plans or really three plans. You plan to start football season as it’s supposed to start. I think you have a plan to start the season with a modified start date. And then there is a plan not to start the football season at all. Those are the things that we are working on within our conference, but we are still relatively early on in the process. We don’t know what the virus is going to do so you have to make contingency plans for all three of those scenarios and then kind of wait to see which one of those is going to be reality.