Part 1: The Effect on Drake University’s Athletic Programs
From the men’s and women’s MVC basketball tournament, to the renowned Drake Relays, spring sports have drawn thousands of fans to Drake University every year. This year with the raging COVID-19 pandemic drastically altering the sports industry, the N.C.A.A. announced March 12 to suspend all winter and spring championships. Following suit, the Missouri Valley Conference, which Drake is a part of, cancelled the remainder of spring sports’ seasons, a great disappointment to student-athletes and Bulldog fans.
“It was heartbreaking to see winter sports seasons end abruptly and spring sports concluded as their second half part of the season was getting going,” Dalton Moberly, the assistant director of student-athlete success services, said in an email. “The past few weeks have been a trying time for our athletes and athletic staff with consistent breaking news updates.”
Despite the uncertainty of new updates, the Drake athletic department is prioritizing the safety of its athletes and staff and has already made several significant campus decisions. Specifically, the staff made the tough decision on March 18 to indefinitely postpone the renowned Drake Relays. A release statement was posted immediately following the suspension of Relays, but the note did not suggest a reschedule date.
“The health, safety and well being of Drake Relays’ participants and fans, along with guidance from local and national health officials, have been at the forefront of the decision-making process,” the release read. “Recent directives from the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention, Iowa Department of Public Health and City of Des Moines regarding large gatherings make it clear that postponing the Drake Relays is necessary.”
In addition to making the decision to postpone Relays, Drake staff also adjusted academic programs for student-athletes to make the transition to online learning more manageable.
“We are trying to make things easier for student-athletes with all of these changes,” Moberly said. “Drake made a policy change that now allows for credit/no credit courses. Our staff has been working with lots of student-athletes on the best way to handle this policy change, with eligibility always being at the forefront, including both GPA and progress toward a degree benchmark.”
Along with student-athletes, who returned home for the remainder of the semester after the suspension of sports, the lives of the Drake athletics department have also been disrupted. Michael Admire, the director of broadcasting at Drake, described the adjustment process for the athletic staff and their efforts to reach out to students.
“Our staff is trying to reach out as much as possible to make sure student-athletes are adjusting to remote learning, being away from campus and the pandemic in general,” Admire said in an email. “We are trying to be very intentional in this new world and attempting to make it as normal as possible, despite the extreme circumstances.”
Brian Hardin, the director of athletics at Drake, said he is proud of how the coaches and staff members have poured themselves into the lives of student-athletes in this unprecedented time.
“In a time of social distancing, our coaches are keeping their student-athletes connected through video conferencing platforms. Our strength and conditioning coaches and athletic trainers have devised individual plans for our student-athletes,” Hardin said in an email. “Our student counseling center on campus has created Zoom meetings where our student-athletes can meet with counselors and discuss how this time away from campus and their sport has impacted the life of the student-athlete. This commitment to our student-athlete well-being from our coaches and staff members has made me quite proud of our department and university.”
Additionally, to continue its communication with fans and prospective students, the athletic staff is working to maintain an online presence through social media.
“We’ve started posting here and there whether it’s the launch of our new podcast network, or a message from Blake Boldon and the Drake Relays,” Admire said. “This week we’ll have our first Instagram live Q&A on the flagship account. The virus has forced us to use what we have in creative ways, but also it’s allowing us to think of the big picture.”
With the difficult announcements and updates from the N.C.A.A, Admire believes the changes to the sports industry will have a lasting effect and bring attention to the importance of sports.
“We are living in a world we’ve never seen before and with that it challenges everyone to open their eyes,” Admire said. “The virus’ ripple in sports has given sports media a different feel and look. I think everybody now has a new-found appreciation and perspective on sports and its place in society.”
The future is uncertain for the sports industry as COVID-19 continues its course, but Drake’s athletic department is trying to remain flexible and encourage its athletes and staff to stay safe.
“We are working through a number of contingency plans for what our athletics department will look like when students are allowed to return to campus and sporting events are allowed to occur again,” Hardin said. “The reality is, though, no one knows when that will be or what all we need to adjust to in the future. The most important thing we can do right now is to follow the advice of the experts and our local officials and do our part to help limit the spread of this virus.”