COV(D-19 has thrown up plenty of hurdles but for local civic clubs, the internet and technology has kept members in touch.
The Indianola Rotary Club has been meeting via Zoom, and though the meals aren’t shared elbow-to-elbow, each week’s guest is presented for all to see and partake.
This past week, legendary Delta State University Baseball Coach and now Athletic Director Mike Kinnison was on the computer screen with Rotary Club president Bryan Davis.
Kinnison chatted about today’s college athletic landscape and the coronavirus challenge.
“Delta State is very much alive and well,” Kinnison said. “Up to the point where we had our spring sports seasons cancelled, we had put together some good things throughout the course of our athletic year.”
He noted the football team had put together a winning 6-4 record in the always tough Gulf South Conference after an underperforming year previously.
“A positive year for them, probably a game or so out of making the playoffs,” he said. “We like where they are and like where they are headed into the 2020 fall season – hopefully.”
Our women’s soccer program had the best season they have ever had,” he said. “And with success in college athletics does bring changes.”
The previous coach took on new responsibilities at the University of North Carolina Charlotte and Kinnison was tasked with hiring a new women’s soccer coach in February.
“We hired Mark Hiller who comes to us as an assistant at University of Louisiana-Lafayette,” he said.
The women’s basketball team “had a great year and finished third in the conference and then was runner up in the conference tournament,” he said. “They advanced to the NCAA regional but did not get to play. They were in Cleveland, Tennessee practicing and were one day away from starting the tournament.”
Spring sports were a month and a half into their seasons before they were halted. Men’s tennis was undefeated and highly ranked and men’s golf was flying high behind the play of Zach Zediker.
“He may well have a future beyond college,” he said. “Our baseball and softball teams were off to good starts.”
Dealing with the coronavirus has been difficult, but Kinnison and other athletic directors are “working with the cards they have been dealt.”
“You have to deal with it…For me personally, what was very tough was having to go to those five programs and tell them what had occurred,” Kinnison said. “They knew there was going to be some changes but those five teams thought they were going to finish their seasons with no fans in the stands. That all changed in five days. With no fans being in the stands with the plug being pulled and seasons canceled. It was quite a bit of a shock to them.”
He noted that the NCAA has granted spring sport athletes to return for their senior year of eligibility.
“That affected 23 senior athletes,” he said. “They will have the option to return but some of them have graduated and have taken jobs. About 80 percent of that group is excited to return and play and many will start a master’s program.”
The athletes can be brought back and be on their respective teams but don’t count on the NCAA equivalency according to Kinnison. He now has to find ways to fund this extra year of eligibility. And there’s also the challenge of how to open up and prepare for upcoming athletic seasons.
“Every week our athletic directors and presidents have a video conference call and we discuss all the possibilities of, ‘What would happen if we start on time or if we don’t bring students back until September or October or until January? What would we do?’ There’s not an easy answer. There’s a lot that factors into that.”
He noted the decision will have to filter through the federal, state, county and city laws to decipher.
And with the differing competitors and their locations, the puzzle pieces for a new season of sports is more like a game of Jumanji with hidden and unknown factors around every corner.
Kinnison did let down his guard and opened up his frustration with the entire situation that he and thousands more are trying to figure out on a daily basis.
“If I can be completely transparent, I’d tell you, I’m really tired of it,” he said. “We talk every week as an athletic directors’ group, our presidents and not only that I talk weekly with our coaches and our athletic staff. We’ve taken this philosophy. We’re going to proceed as if we’re on schedule.”
Kinnison said he did not think it would be feasible to bring athletes back to campus if the campus is shut down to just online classes only.
There could also be a possibly limited schedule in the fall and perhaps a cutback on maximum schedules.
Baseball has a maximum of 50 games and that could be cut back to 40 with more of a focus on conference play.
“It’s going to be challenging. It’s going to be really tough. We want to preserve the student athlete experience. We want them to have as great a year as possible,” he said.
Kinnison also talked about the effects virtual recruiting has had on coaches and his department.
“Recruiting is the lifeblood of our programs,” he said. “The NCAA justifiably so, slapped a dead period moratorium on any type of correspondence on or off campus. No travel, no visit on or off campus through May 31. That may be extended, or it may be eased. Our coaches have had to do everything through phone or email. They can Zoom. We do encourage our coaches to do walking virtual tours through our facilities and through the campus. I’ve seen coaches walking through our facilities talking to a recruit on Facetime.”
With a successful baseball coaching career that includes a Division II World Series Championship, as athletic director, Kinnison now has a passion for all DSU sports and found it as difficult to tell each team as it was the baseball team.
But in the end, he also looked at it as a teaching opportunity for each coach and athlete under his guidance.
“It was a great opportunity to share with them. As is my nature, I didn’t sugar coat it. I just said, ‘Hey, we all hate this. It’s heartbreaking but you know what? It’s life. And this will not be the last time you’ve had something taken from you. You just have to figure out how can I move forward? How can I be better because of this? You walk by faith and you develop your ability to handle diversity and your toughness.’”
The entire interview can be viewed on the Indianola Rotary Club’s active Facebook page.