GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — For the thousands of small college athletes across the country, how much the pandemic is changing things may depend on which school they attend.
When the pandemic first hit and started cancelling sports seasons, many colleges across the nation started cutting certain programs altogether. Fox 17 spoke with the Director of Athletics at both Grand Valley State University in Allendale and Hope College in Holland, both explaining that they are not eliminating any sports.
The NCAA has helped schools save money while helping sports survive, for example at the Division 2 level, in late May they announced they are reducing the maximum and minimum number of games for each school, while still allowing them to qualify for the post-season.
Keri Becker at GVSU said, "All of the sports, the maximum number of contests was reduced anywhere from 10% to 25%, so our football schedule has been reduced from eleven to ten games." At the Division 3 level, the NCAA also adjusted the minimum games allowed to still qualify for the playoffs.
Becker said while student athletes are just now being phased back on campus in small groups, all plans are for Fall sports to happen and on time.
"I would say it's day to day but were in a heavy planning phase. You have to start planning and start somewhere. We are still doing the face masks when not working out, still physical distancing, all of those processes are in place", Becker told Fox 17. "We at some point have to get back to full contact sports, right? Without physical distancing and those types of things. And then the next thing is spectators at those sports and we're starting to think about what that looks like," Becker added.
At Hope College, AD Tim Schoonveld said about the upcoming sports season potential.
"You can be pessimistic or optimistic, and we're choosing to be optimistic", adding that whether fans are in attendance at those events is less important than whether the events are actually played.
"For most Division 3 (programs), the bottom dollar really comes to enrollment, like if we don't play football, that could have a significant impact on whether or not students enroll in our institution in the Fall. They might say, 'Hey, I'm going to take this semester off and come back next year' or do something like that," Schoonveld told Fox 17.
However, back at Grand Valley State, A.D. Keri Becker says fans in the seats make a big difference. We asked her what might happen if no fans were allowed to attend Lakers games this year, in which Becker replied, "No fans? It would not be good, it would mean some cutting of possibly some positions. When you think about what makes up a budget in any organization, it's people that is the biggest hunk of it. When you lose out on $300,000 to $400,000 dollars in just one sport (football) ticket sales, that supports a lot of the other operations. I’ve already done a budget model based on 50% less revenue and that’s tickets as a whole and we’re not cutting any people at that point. So we could go a little bit lower and still be fine. I give a lot of credit to the model we have in Division 2 and certainly at Grand Valley. We've built a model that isn't so dependent on that revenue piece that you're seeing that is so painful for people."
Becker adds that if the number of fans in the football stadium were limited, it could hurt funds from a second bucket tied to marketing and advertising revenue.
"That's a huge piece that is tied to having 14,000 fans in the football stadium so businesses can get their return on investment." Both Athletics Directors said recruiting has been impacted by the pandemic but overall, thanks to technology and early commitments, it hurt some sports less than others.