CORONAVIRUS

David Harris explains how the COVID-19 pandemic is impacting UNI athletics

'We're all looking for the playbook that tells us exactly how to deal with these situations'

David Harris, University of Northern Iowa Athletics Director. (The Gazette)
David Harris, University of Northern Iowa Athletics Director. (The Gazette)

CEDAR FALLS — While fans of Northern Iowa athletics are still trying to grasp the cancellation of all of UNI’s sports through the remainder of the 2019-20 academic year, Athletics Director David Harris and staff have been meeting regularly to work through the challenges presented by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We’re all looking for the playbook that tells us exactly how to deal with these situations, but we’re all finding that it doesn’t exist,” Harris said. “So, we’re leaning on the wisdom of our staff and of the guidance that’s being provided by professionals and experts, and our colleagues and our conferences and the NCAA to try to make sure that we’re doing what’s in the best interest of our student-athletes.”

There are many things Harris and UNI’s athletics staff have and continue to meet about. Above all, though, Harris pointed out how the safety and well-being of student-athletes is at the center of every decision.

“A lot of tough decisions had to be made this week and some of them, matter of fact many of them, have taken away opportunities for student-athletes who are so deserving of the opportunity to be able to compete at this point of the year,” Harris said. “But, at the same time, you’re certainly thinking about doing what’s in their best interest and keeping that at the forefront.”

Beyond student-athlete safety there are undeniable financial ramifications as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, especially for non-Power 5 institutions.

For example, Bradley men’s basketball earned the Missouri Valley Conference $1,681,000 for its 2019 NCAA Tournament appearance. That total is paid out over six years by the NCAA with conferences having the authority to distribute the revenue to its member institutions however it pleases.

Going without that payout for just one season after the Braves qualified again in 2020 is something Harris anticipates there being conversation with the NCAA at some point.

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“Certainly our league, as well as a number of other leagues, count on money that comes from (the NCAA Tournament) and so if that is going to be impacted then we’ll certainly want to look at all options that will be in front of us.”

Another fluid element with financial implications includes the NCAA’s Council Coordination Committee’s announcement on Friday that it had approved an additional year of eligibility for all spring sports student-athletes.

Spring sports at UNI include men’s and women’s outdoor track and field, men’s and women’s golf, women’s tennis and softball.

The Council’s decision was met positively by fans and administrators and Harris anticipates and wishes that it will be approved by the board of governors. If it is passed, institutions, especially non-Power , will need a pathway to deal with additional costs of an unprecedented academic year that will look past scholarship caps to accommodate student-athletes.

“At UNI (it will) certainly be a more challenging situation to do that (financially),” Harris said. “So, we would be looking to guidance from the NCAA, because I know that they are aware that many institutions out there have financial constraints that would make this challenging.”

While much attention continues to be paid toward athletic impacts, accommodating student-athletes academically while face-to-face instruction is suspended through Friday, April 3 at UNI is yet another important element Harris and staff are working to address. Harris said phone availability with tutors and other virtual assistance means are currently being explored.

He also told The Gazette that spring football is another fluid conversation at this point. Practices were scheduled to begin March 23, but will be reevaluated once the university reinstates face-to-face instruction.

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