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Business as (Not So) Usual for Collegiate Athletic Departments

By KYLE LUTZ

Staff Writer

After close to a year of no competition, local college sports teams returned to action at the beginning of January.

Most fans just see the product on the floor. Very little is known about what goes on behind the scenes. Athletic departments have been preparing for months to ensure their student-athletes can have the proper college experience but in a safe way.

Much is different right now, including fans being prohibited from attending games.

Yet fundraising is still a vital part for local college athletic programs.

“It’s more from the energy of the game and the student experience,” Bethany Director of Athletics Steve Thompson said about fans’ absence. “The tandem that makes Division II and III experience what it is. But fundraising is really important. We’re doing the fan cut-outs and selling those to parents, alumni and supporters. They’ll show up on our streaming.

“Then it’s more broad-based fundraising,” Thompson said, “hosting zoom hangouts with alumni and trying to host unique events that gets them excited about supporting the college in a time when our student-athletes need support in many different ways.”

Thompson also said the alumni stepped up big for Bethany, an NCAA Division III school.

The college had a day of giving solely for athletics and was able to raise more than $50,000 from alumni.

“That was a tremendous boost. It kind of kicked us into gear as we returned to play. Just to see the alumni’s passion and support us on that day was huge,” Thompson said.

West Liberty University also has reached out to alumni for support. On top of the usual t-shirt and sweatshirt sales, the university has sought private support from individuals.

“Fundraising for us hasn’t really changed in the pandemic as opposed to pre-pandemic,” West Liberty Athletics Director Lynn Ullom said. “There’s various ways to fundraise, but the bulk of what most schools do at this level is you’re going to reach out to donors, friends of the program and alumni.

“People that have an affinity to your organization. As far as us dealing with this pandemic, none of that has changed.”

Wheeling University is developing strategies right now in terms of fundraising, but, according to Director of Athletics Patrick Snively, the Cardinals have taken a little bit of a different approach.

“We have some plans right now to get our fundraising up and running,” Snively said. “We as an institution haven’t really been pressing our donors because it’s a difficult time for a lot of folks. That’s intentional because people are hurting and their businesses are hurting, but at the same time, we do have some needs, so we want to be prepared for when the time is right.

“We want to position ourselves when we want to do so, so we’re doing some behind the scenes planning.”

One silver lining when it comes to Division II and III schools is that they don’t rely as much on ticket sales when it comes to making money.

And while health and safety is always imperative, athletic departments have been taking the extra steps to ensure that everyone will be safe during and after the event.

“So much of our time has been invested in meeting health and safety protocols,” Ullom said. “The whole intent through this was, ‘How can we safely get our coaches and students back into competition?’ With that comes a lot of hoops we have to jump through to meet those protocols.

“That’s where the bulk of our time has been spent. We have mandatory testing and we have to completely disinfect the court and chairs in between basketball games. There’s so many things we are doing in an effort to enable our teams to play.”

Snively, who was hired by Wheeling University on Jan. 4, jumped right into the action on his first day to make sure proper protocols were followed.

And as all three universities planned their approach for the winter season in a new way, the same will happen in the spring.

Starting in March, there will be a condensed fall sports season, while spring sports will go on as originally scheduled.

“It’s going to be trying for our athletic training staff, who have been amazing,” Snively said. “They’re responsible for testing multiple student-athletes per week. It’s trying for them, it’s trying for our administrators and trying on our coaching just to piece this together and get us through.

“But we’re here to try and make this work. It was a goal to get back in action. We all understood what this was about going into this. At least when we compete in the spring, most of it can be done outdoors and hopefully that makes it less likely we will spread the infection. I’m looking forward to getting out student-athletes outdoors and opening up that environment a bit.”

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