NIU athletic director not confident about football season
While Sean Frazier said that the COVID-19 testing NIU is providing its athletes has been successful, the athletic director declined to give any specific information about positivity rates similar to numbers issued by public health departments, citing confidentiality.
But Frazier did talk about what he sees as an imminent decision coming on the fate of fall sports in the Mid-American Conference, which he said the league wants to do together - something tricky given the different status of the states in the conference.
"Ohio has their deal, Michigan has theirs, New York has theirs, Indiana then obviously Illinois," Frazier said. "Trying to get alignment with that, along with some alignment with the league, that's some of the tripping pieces. I feel it's imminent in the near future."
He said from his point of view he's not feeling too confident.
"It's all about health and safety," Frazier said. "I'll just put it this way. I don't want to be too cynical about it, but the uptick in COVID, the lack of control, the lack of a vaccine, the fact states are rolling back in another direction. If it was tea leaves my friend, what I'm reading right now is it doesn't look positive."
The Huskies have had all four of their nonconference games affected by the pandemic. The games against Iowa, Maryland and Rhode Island have been canceled due to those leagues deciding to either not play this year or play conference-only. The Huskies' game against BYU, scheduled for SeatGeek Stadium, was moved back to Huskie Stadium.
Last week, the MAC announced a delay to the fall sports season, pushing it until Sept. 3.
"With the uncertainty as things around us start to get off track, we're concerned," Frazier said. "As we start talking about bringing people back we postpone the date for all our sports. We're doing all the right things, but we're starting to run out of time to make the final-final decision."
The two lost Big 10 games will cost the school $1.4 million, Frazier said. He said that's why he's a big proponent of playing football in the spring this year, to help recoup those losses.
In addition to lost revenue from contracts, he said ticket sales are going to be an issue in the fall. Huskie Stadium would be limited to 20% capacity, he said, and other MAC schools would be more limited.
"Some folks aren't going to have any fans in the stands," Frazier said. "And that's going to have a financial impact on the ticket side. We'd have to rely on just the ticket revenue. But hopefully by the spring we have a vaccine, we have more understanding about the virus, we'll have more health and safety. It's all things that remain to be seen right now."
Frazier said because of NIU's relationship with the Big Ten and Iowa specifically, he felt rescheduling the games won't be an issue. And Maryland was a home-and-home with the 2021 game slated for NIU.
Frazier said they're working with Rhode Island as well to reschedule the game down the road.
"It's going to be challenging, but I think we can make it work," Frazier said. "Especially with our Big Ten and our relationship with Rhode Island."
Frazier said that football, men's basketball and women's basketball have returned to campus and started practicing on campus again with rigorous testing in place.
But he would not mention positivity rates or other numbers, citing confidentiality.
"I feel very good with the testing," Frazier said. "We've got that down. We've got a very good crew of folks. Our relationship with Northwestern Medicine is fantastic. ... We're probably at the top end based on what I see with my colleagues both in the league and nationally."
During the interview, news broke that Toledo coach Jason Candle tested positive for the coronavirus, becoming the first known FBS coach to do so.
Frazier said that highlights how safety has to be the No. 1 concern going forward.
"As we talk, we've got coaches, we've got administrators, we've got folks on their own," Frazier said. "That's what this is telling me. It's not just the students. It's the staff. It's the community. You don't run into a pandemic every day. This is earth-shattering."
While the MAC talks about different options - conference-only schedule and spring football are among all the options "in the blender" Frazier said - he added the focus has to be the well-being of everyone.
"We gotta not be tone-deaf," Frazier said. "There are people all around us that are either dying or being affected by this. No one is more passionate than I am about football or any sport. But it's a dangerous possibility right now and we have to make sure that is taken care of first."