People At Core Of Lyons’ WVU, NCAA Work
On the surface, maybe, it seems a no-brainer.
If you can play college football season this fall, play it.
But to think that is to have a brainless approach, for there is so much more at stake than just money, tailgates and simply the joy of being a fan.Don’t believe it?
Ask Shane Lyons, but ask him when he’s wearing his other hat.
The one hat he owns has a WV on it, for he is the West Virginia director of athletics.
The only insignia on the other hat is NCAA, for he chairs the NCAA’s football oversight committee and that forces him to look at this not through blue and gold eyes but with eyes that take in all aspects of what has become one of the most perilous times in American history.
We’ve handled hurricanes and tornadoes, court challenges and rules infractions … but we’re dealing with a pandemic from the COVID-19 virus that has swept the nation with illness and led to financial instability to the point that now even Lyons has been forced to furlough a number of his own athletic department employees.
In Washington, there is a push to get the economy going again and, of course, one of the unstated symptom of this pandemic is football fever, which has great economic impact everywhere, but perhaps seldom as heavy an impact as it has on a state like West Virginia.
So you ask Lyons about the things that occupy him when wearing that NCAA hat of his and what the nature of the meetings he presides over have become.
“It’s interesting,” he begins. “College athletics is a special place. You know, we all have our own special agendas. We all have our own special thoughts but when we come to what’s the greater good for college football you end up leaving your own personal agendas on the table.”
You may walk into the meeting thinking Alabama or Clemson or West Virginia, but in the end you think of the people who are involved … the players first and, of course, the fans.
In truth, that is what makes it so senseless to even talk about college football without fans, for the special place that college football is is built around the students, the fans, the mascots, cheerleaders, marching bands, concession workers.
It is a game, yes, but more it is a spectacle.
“At the forefront of our discussions is the health and safety of our student athletes so we can’t lose that as one of our core value as we move through this. But, at the same time, we have to look at the fairness and equity aspects of it,” Lyons said.
There are so many forces at work. Some states are opening up their businesses earlier than others, lifting their social distancing rules.
Will that work?
Right now, no one really knows. Chances are it will work at some places, not at others.
But what it does is create an atmosphere of potential unfairness and inequities.
“You mention reopening at different times, what does that look like and how close can we get to where the fairness and equity remains intact?” Lyons asked. “The difficult part is when you get into the potential competition season and some states may not be there, do we hold off or if you are at a certain number (of schools open to compete) do you start moving forward without that?”
What does the Big 12 do if the meat packing problem in Iowa has caused Iowa State’s epidemic to fail to level off? Do they play without Iowa State? What if social distancing cuts down attendance and therefore revenue? What if the decision is made to play no non-conference games?
“We have not yet dived into that yet,” Lyons admitted. “We talk about summer activities and I think there has been a lot of uniformity across the board. I think everyone is understanding the inequality over the summer could be a little different but at the same time when it comes to recruiting and camps it’s important we’re all on the same across the country and across every conference.
“The things we’re working on right now is that we’re all on the same page with the voluntary workouts. If campuses start to reopen and you meet your state guidelines and health and safety department guidelines, what does that look like and understanding some may be ahead of others.”
What is needed is what Lyons is expressing, a loving care for the game itself and for the people who are involved in it, which is players and staff first and then the fans. Health and safety, in the end, are far more important than being able to enjoy football this year.