Kansas Athletic Director Jeff Long is optimistic for a timely return for college sports this fall, Long said in a video panel Tuesday night.
“I’m hopeful that we will start in September and end on Thanksgiving," Long said. “I think we have a chance.”
In a video panel hosted by the Kansas City Public Library, Long joined Missouri Athletic Director Jim Sterk and former USA Today senior reporter Steve Wieberg to discuss the future of college sports amid the coronavirus pandemic.
The discussion touched on several topics, including the Missouri and Kansas rivalry and the recent social justice movements, but the panel was majorly focused on how the coronavirus will shape college sports in the fall.
Even among uncertainty surrounding the return of college sports, Long is confident in keeping the safety and health of student athletes the top priority.
“We think that we can keep them safe,” Long said. “We think we’ll do everything in our power to reduce that risk.”
“We’ve had almost 90 student athletes come back voluntarily to start working out,” Long said. “It’s our responsibility to keep them as safe as possible, but there is risk and we’ve clearly stated that to our student athletes and their families.”
The operation of bringing back student athletes to campus has many moving parts including working with the NCAA, the Big 12 conference, Kansas Team Health, and the state and county health boards. Long said he’s hopeful that by the time the college football season starts, “all team conferences [will be] developing uniform testing guidelines.”
As for the quickly approaching football season, Long believes whether some teams start or not will vary from state-to-state.
“I think it’s more likely that some teams will start and some teams won’t," Long said. "And we’ll see teams who have to miss a game.”
Long said him and the rest of Kansas Athletics are also “planning for the unknown” regarding how many fans will be allowed to attend games.
Long said that if things are looking up by the time football is slated to return on Sept. 5, he’s “hopeful to have 100% capacity” in David Booth Kansas Memorial Stadium.
However, Long added that Kansas Athletics is also prepared to accommodate "as little as 20%" of fans if that is needed to provide proper social distancing.
“We’re modeling everything because it’s important that we have fans attend not only for the revenue generation, but for the student athletes to compete," Long said. "They like to compete in front of fans so we would like to have fans in there."
Long projected Kansas Athletics to lose 15-20% in the next fiscal year, even if football and men’s basketball’s respective seasons come back on time. Long previously announced on May 27 there will be pay cuts across the athletic department.
“The [coronavirus] had that kind of impact on our future budget,” said Long. “We’ve cut $8 million from our budget for next year. That’s why we are taking furloughs, voluntary pay cuts and mandatory pay cuts.”
Although much is still up in the air, Long said Kansas Athletics will start making some definitive decisions in early August.