UPDATE: On Friday, Sept. 25, Mid-American Conference presidents voted to play a six-game, conference-only season beginning Nov. 4 with the MAC Championship taking place Dec. 18 or 19. Read the full article here.
Ball State’s athletic department is in an unusual place. On Aug. 8, the Mid-American Conference became the first Football Bowl Subdivision conference to postpone all fall sports amidst the COVID-19 pandemic.
In the days following the MAC’s postponement, other conferences called off their fall seasons. However, some have played on, including the Atlantic Coast Conference and Big 12. Additionally, some have reversed course on their initial decisions not to compete, as the Big Ten announced it will begin its football season Oct. 24.
The MAC Council of Presidents held a meeting Sept. 19 to discuss possibilities of a fall football season. Although MAC Commissioner Jon Steinbrecher said no decision was made, models for a possible return were reviewed, and a second meeting will take place this week.
Over the last week, members of Ball State Football have been vocal for a return to action on social media, tweeting #WeWantToPlay. Redshirt senior quarterback Drew Plitt and junior cornerback A.J. Uzodinma have both used the hashtag.
However, as it currently stands, there are no opportunities to compete.
Ball State Athletic Director Beth Goetz said the absence of fall sports has impacted Ball State’s athletic department, athletes and fans in an unprecedented way.
“It has forced us to think outside the box,” Goetz said.
When the news broke surrounding the postponement of fall sports, Ball State’s student-athletes expressed a mix of disappointment and optimism. On Aug. 8, redshirt junior linebacker Brandon Martin tweeted, “This is tough but we’ve seen our share of adversity. We’ll stick together and be back to handle unfinished business. Love my bruddas!”
Shawn Sullivan, Ball State associate athletics director of marketing and fan engagement, credited the athletic department’s onward mentality for helping it push through the last six months.
“Our strategic plan is highlighted by our onward attitude, which is whatever happens, keep moving forward, keep improving,” Sullivan said.
Since the MAC’s postponement, Goetz said, she has been impressed by student-athletes’ hard work and preparation for when the day comes to compete. Practices and workouts may feel different, but the Cardinals are making it work.
“We have a multilayer approach, which includes weekly testing, daily health screenings and modified training practices,” Goetz said. “The second you're not in a practice, you have a mask on and are socially distanced.”
Coaches have also used unconventional ways to lead their teams.
“Our coaches and staff have taken this opportunity to think differently and truly evaluate themselves,” Goetz said. “I think our coaches have been excellent in being creative with how they communicate with recruits, their Zoom meetings or team-building activities.”
Without the consistent revenue that comes from fall sports, such as concession and ticket sales, Goetz said the athletic department has experienced financial issues, but she said she is confident the department can recover over time by staying in touch with the community.
“We have had to make adjustments with financial components,” Goetz said. “We have had to become more creative in the ways we engage with our fans as well as our connection to campus.”
Sullivan said using engaging types of content and its platform has given Ball State Athletics additional ways to expand its outreach.
“Creating the Cardinal Couriers program and posting spirited Zoom backgrounds was fun for our staff to implement and execute and impactful for supporters,” Sullivan said.
Sophomore psychology major Caleb Floyd said he considers himself an avid sports fan and believes on-campus sporting events provide an opportunity for students to take their mind off schoolwork.
“I miss being able to cheer on the team with my friends at the football games and the game day experience as a whole,” Floyd said.
When the time comes for fans to safely attend on-campus sporting events, Goetz said, the department will have a plan to ensure fan safety.
“We have started looking at how to be socially distant in venues,” Goetz said. “We are paying close attention on how to control building flows and how that will look for fans entering a large venue like Worthen Arena.”
With the current postponement of fall sports, Cardinal fans will have to wait until the beginning of Ball State’s winter sports season for their next possible opportunity to attend an on-campus sporting event.