UMass AD Ryan Bamford: No decision on fall sports; 2020-21 ‘huge’ for assessment of athletes

  • UMass Athletics Director Ryan Bamford, shown above at a 2017 press conference, said he will have a better feel by the end of the month in regards to having a fall season. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

Sports Editor
Published: 7/15/2020 5:34:31 PM

No decision has been made in regards to a fall season at UMass, but Athletics Director Ryan Bamford said he will have a better feel by the end of the month.

Bamford talked with the Gazette about the immediate and long-term future of athletics on Tuesday, calling the next year “huge” for the assessment of the program.

“We have to go back to our strategic plan and really get granular on what we want to be when this pandemic lets up,” Bamford said. “What do we want to look like, how do we want to function, how do we want to ensure that our students are getting an absolutely first-class experience but also have a chance to win a championship. Our level of investment in our program, everything — every support system, all of our staffing models, that’s all going to be assessed and evaluated and reviewed to the tenth degree over the next year because we have to come out of this stronger than we went in and that ultimately is our goal.”

The COVID-19 pandemic has wreaked havoc on collegiate athletics. It forced the cancellation of the winter postseason as well as the entire spring season. To some extent it has dripped into the fall. Several conferences — Ivy League, Patriots League, Division III NESCAC — have already canceled their fall season.

“It’s only two (Division I) leagues at this point,” Bamford said. “I’m sure there are more that are on the precipice and once it gets to be a groundswell, I think the NCAA is going to have to make a call on those sports.”

Bamford said he has yet to receive guidelines from the NCAA, but the discussion of a fall season is happening on an institutional, conference and national level. He said he thought things were heading in the right direction about a month ago, but that has since changed with the spikes happening across the country.

“Unfortunately, other states are going in the other direction and that really makes this challenge an obstacle that is going to be hard to overcome,” Bamford said.

If there is a season, UMass is taking careful measures to ensure the safety of its athletes. Currently only the football team is on campus. The independent Minutemen are scheduled to open the season Sept. 3 at UConn. The remaining teams are not on campus.

“We’re being very strategic in the ways we roll this out because we want to make sure the environment that we are creating is as safe and healthy as it can be,” Bamford said.

Player regulations

A football player is tested when he arrives on campus. If a player is from one of the 42 hot states as identified by state guidelines, he quarantines in the campus hotel for 14 days. In addition to the first test, he is tested after seven days and again at the end of his stay. Once he receives a negative test, the player can work out in a socially distanced outdoor conditioning program.

Players from any of the non-hot states can leave the hotel after they receive their first negative test. Once a player leaves the hotel, he moves into a residence hall and shares a floor with nine other teammates. This group eats together and works out together.

Out of over 100 tests among players and coaches, only one player has tested positive. Once everyone is in the clear, Bamford expects activities to ramp up.

“Things have worked,” he said. “You can’t anticipate what you’re going to have on the front end when students and staff return, but we had a very good first couple weeks. We’ve been very smart not to go 0 to 60.”

The fall semester begins Aug. 24 according to Chancellor Kumble R. Subbaswamy’s reopening plan. Typically, all athletes arrive on campus three to four weeks before the start of school. Due to the uncertainty of the fall, Bamford said there are no plans to have other teams return this month. If they do return in August, it presents a challenge based on the increased population on campus.

“Right now, our football guys are predominantly — I would say 90% of the students on campus,” Bamford said. “If the campus get repopulated with 10, 12, 15, 20 thousand students, well that dynamic completely changes and now you’re really more at risk based on how many connections you have each day.”

Bamford has taken into account the potential late arrival of other athletes and has adjusted the schedule. Nonconference games originally scheduled for August have been pushed back to give UMass more time to plan. To date, only the football schedule has been released.

“I think in the next week or so we’re going to have a better feel for what that calendar is going to look like, if we are going to play games or not going play games,” he said. “We don’t want to jump on anything until we have an idea on what the entire landscape is because you don’t want to be shifting things so many times.”

Complicating the picture are the number of international athletes who could face difficulties returning to campus.

“It’s a real sticky situation and we’re trying to do the best we can,” Bamford said. “Kids coming from Canada are in a total different scenario than somebody coming from Europe or the Scandinavian countries. It’s a challenge that can’t be met by one round solution. It’s got to be really thought out on individual cases, and some of our students aren’t going to make it back here, and we’re still going to support them if they want to go to school.”

Bamford has stayed in contact with coaches and players, relaying information and answering questions as best he can.

“I’m a straight shooter and very transparent about the things we’re doing and thinking. I’m an extremely positive person but I’m also a realist and we’ve been managing expectations for a number of months,” Bamford said. “No one is an expert on this stuff and none of us know where this is headed. I think the scary part for a number of businesses, industries is we don’t know if the end is in sight, we don’t know when we’ll be playing games again, if it’s this fall, winter or spring or if the whole season is in jeopardy.”

Financial picture

The pandemic has also created financial issues for athletic departments across the country. Even Power Five schools aren’t exempt as Stanford recently cut 11 varsity sports. UMass has its own issues, although not on the level of Stanford, which had 36 programs last year to UMass’ 19.

“We’re doing everything we can not to make short-term financial decisions that have long-term programmatic or operational impacts,” Bamford said. “I don’t want to make a financial decision based on COVID-19 right now in a very short window of a week or two. ... We’re doing everything we can to protect our opportunities for participation.”

The athletic department was on target to finish fiscal year 2020 with a surplus, according to Bamford. That surplus though will be turned over to the university to help with its losses.

UMass is just over two weeks into fiscal year 2021. While Bamford hasn’t received his budget yet, he knew he had to cut $4.5-5 million out of the previous year’s budget of $40 million.

While he knows that figure will probably grow, he has already taken steps to address the situation. About $4.5 million has been saved between furloughs, voluntary coach and administration salary reductions, and buyouts as part of the Voluntary Separation Incentive Program (early retirements/voluntary resignation).

“We’re waiting to see what the remaining landscape is,” Bamford said. “The great unknown of the next 60 days could create some challenges for us.”

Mike Moran can be reached at Follow on Twitter @mikemoranDHG.

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