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As more time passes since the COVID-19 pandemic brought sports to a standstill in March, Fort Hays State University Athletic Director Curtis Hammeke keeps waiting for the day when a clearer picture will emerge for how the college sports climate will look this fall.
But so far, that picture is almost as fuzzy as it was several weeks ago.
“You keep thinking, as a month goes by, the picture will clear up a little more. In some regards, the landscape keeps changing to where the picture still isn’t real clear,” Hammeke said told The HDN last week.
FHSU is “planning on playing all of our sports this fall,” Hammeke said.
But the year ahead is already guaranteed to bring significant changes.
In a cost savings effort to help schools manage the economic fallout, NCAA Division II sports schedules were reduced across the board. Football will play a maximum of 10 regular-season games instead of 11, while basketball will play no more than 22 games in the regular season, down from 26.
Those limits will force the MIAA and the other Division II conferences to completely overhaul their schedules. In some sports, non-conference slates could ostensibly be eliminated.
“I think it was something that we were all anticipating, that we were going to find ways to reduce expenditures, but I think doing it universally at the national level probably is reducing games a little more than we would have anticipated,” Hammeke said. “But not knowing what lies ahead exactly, it’s hard to know whether those moves will be appropriate to what it actually looks later or not.
“But, nonetheless, it will save money by reducing expenditures of games.”
The MIAA is expected to approve its new schedules by mid-June.
Unlike some larger schools, FHSU has been able to avoid salary cuts in its athletic department so far.
“We’re grateful for our administration to be able to avoid the staff reductions and furloughs at this point,” Hammeke said.
The annual Tiger Auction and Dinner, which is the biggest fundraiser for the FHSU Athletic Department, is still set for Aug. 22. Last year’s event raised a record-setting $377,402.
While fundraising will be more important than ever in the face of the pandemic, Hammeke said he understands some supporters may be unable to donate like they normally would.
“It’s a Catch-22,” Hammeke said. “We’ll have some reductions from the state and we could have some reductions from lack of student fees; those are revenue streams. Then, if you have less games, you’re looking at some lost revenue in ticket sales and concessions and advertising and sponsorships and all those things that help create and generate our budget.
“At the same time, you’ve had people in businesses who are hurting and struggling from this. At a time where we’re probably going to need more support from the outside than ever, it’s also going to be a time where it’s going to be the most difficult for them to help us. We’re conscientious of the fact that some people aren’t going to be able to support us like they have in the past, and we’re sympathetic to that.”
More than financial ramifications, Hammeke said safety is the primary concern.
“First and foremost, I think we got to think about the well being of the athletes,” Hammeke said. “… I think that’s what a large part of the focus is starting to look toward now, is what steps can we take to make sure the athletes are working out in safe conditions.”
Summer baseball appears to be the first sport in Hays on track to start up since the pandemic. Barring any setbacks, the Hays Larks are set to open their season June 15.
“Obviously, the No. 1 concern is to make it a safe environment and follow the guidelines,” Larks manager Frank Leo said.
High school sports in Kansas are still in flux. Kansas State High School Activities Director Bill Faflick said KSHSAA will proceed with caution.
“It's hard to know what the fall looks like, what's going to be in place,’’ he said. “It depends on how far we can move through the progression. It depends on whether we do our part now and everybody else does their part as well.''