'I can't do it at the expense of people's lives': NIU's Frazier explains move to postpone sports
Northern Illinois endured some sad news Saturday with the Mid-American Conference's decision to postpone all fall sports.
NIU athletic director Sean Frazier, as he spoke to reporters on a Zoom call to discuss the direction of the league, couldn't have been more passionate about how COVID-19 has rocked not only college sports, but the world.
"No one wants to have football or sports more than me," Frazier said. "Football gave me all the opportunities I have today. But I can't do it at the expense of people's lives. I can't do that and I won't do that. Not on my watch."
Frazier admitted he's endured some family tragedy because of the coronavirus, though he didn't want to get into specifics.
"We've had some people who have caught this and have perished. It's real," he said. "For us to dismiss the science and dismiss what's currently going on would be irresponsible of me and my leadership. I can't look myself in the mirror and do that."
Frazier is hoping football season can be rescheduled in the spring. The MAC is the first FBS conference to cancel the fall football season. Division 2, Division 3, junior colleges and the major FCS conferences have already reached the same conclusion of trying again in the spring.
There were reports Frazier and NIU President Lisa Freeman led the charge inside the MAC to postpone fall sports, and Frazier's strong comments pretty much confirmed that idea.
"First off, the MAC and its presidents and its ADs, that's where the leadership came from," Frazier said. "I'm biased with my president. I think she's the best in the country. She's a scientist. She's a doctor. This is not new for her as far as her ability to understand what a virus is as well as her access to information. You've got to respect that.
"Yes, I was definitely out there a bit aggressive in the last few months about shifting and looking at a spring season. But that's really more about having some personal knowledge firsthand with my family with COVID, watching this disease, watching this virus. And then saying, 'You know what, I'm a father. I'm not going to put my son in harm's way.' I'm certainly not going to put the sons and daughters that I serve out there."
Frazier said the MAC athletic directors will begin working on a template for playing the football season in the spring. Decisions are still being made about summer football practice, which had already started.
Football coach Thomas Hammock was asked about player reaction to the news.
"I think they understood," he said. "We've got a young football team. We've got 66 freshmen. If we push it back to the spring, it give guys a chance to continue to develop and work on themselves to be the best student-athletes they can be."
There have been complaints across the lower divisions of college football about the costs of testing so many athletes on a regular basis. Frazier admitted cost is an issue, but insisted that's not why the MAC came to this conclusion.
"We had to move resources and we've had supporters and donors and others step up and help us with that (testing) process," he said. "Let's get this straight -- it's not about testing.
"Here's the bottom line -- we don't have a vaccine. We can test till the cows come home, but we cannot stabilize once an individual has COVID, because we don't know all of the effects, long and short term."
While the rest of the FBS conferences continue to prepare for a fall season, the Big Ten announced a guideline to postpone contact football practices indefinitely. Big Ten teams are continuing to practice with helmets and no pads.