CHARLOTTE – When the pandemic shutdown first occurred in March, many colleges and universities, including their athletic programs, had to make quick decisions to comply with state rulings for the safety of its students, administrators and campus staff. Now over 60 days into the COVID-19 pandemic, a new normal is beginning to emerge for institutions. The Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association (CIAA) staff along with its board of directors, coaches and administrators have been working tirelessly to prepare for many scenarios that have still yet to be determined.
“The CIAA Board of Directors understands the value of intercollegiate athletics and the impact in has in our communities”, said Virginia State University President and CIAA Board Chair, Dr. Makola Abdullah. “The Board continues to work thoughtfully and collectively with the Commissioner to address the concerns and the new opportunities ahead to support the experience, safety and welfare of our best asset, our students.”
Following the CIAA Spring General Assembly, the Presidents and Chancellors from the conference’s 12 member institutions determined that there is still more information needed before making a unilateral decision. With all states taking different legislative measures to “re-open” in some capacity, it is prudent to see what happens next. The collective body believes that by the end of June, the landscape of what colleges and universities can do from a financial, operational, health and safety standpoint will be a bit clearer.
Commissioner Jacqie McWilliams’ day consists of daily meetings with NCAA leadership, Division II Conference Commissioners, CIAA management council committee and the CIAA staff. The number of zoom calls, webinars, strategy sessions and membership check-ins has increased.
“Like any challenge or circumstance, the CIAA staff and membership have always set aside individual interests to support what is best for the CIAA,” stated CIAA Commissioner Jacqie McWilliams. “Whatever is decided for the conference, the decision will be timely, thoughtful and strategic to include addressing the economic concerns and most importantly the safety and value of the population and communities we serve every day.”
The CIAA COVID-19 task force is comprised of the CIAA management council, which includes Athletic Directors, SWAs, FARs, Compliance Directors, Athletic Trainers, and Sports Information Directors. Given the rapidly changing news and decisions coming from each state, the group meets weekly to review national, regional and local updates.
Recognizing the economic and operational impact the pandemic will have for the 2020-21 athletic year, the Athletic Directors Association drafted a COVID-19 re-engagement plan (ADA), pledging cooperation of conference members to accommodate changes to schedules and post-season formats. For the stability of the conference, the ADA also agreed to work as a single entity in addressing these challenges and not seek competitive or fiscal advantages at the expense of other member schools. They have presented several options for consideration, most of which are dependent on when and how schools choose to re-open their respective campuses.
“Our number one priority is to ensure the safety and well-being of all participants, student-athletes, coaches, staff, administrators and spectators,” said ADA President and Bowie State University AD Clyde Doughty, Jr. “And to protect the fiscal integrity and reputation of the conference and all conference members.”
The conference office has created Championship guidelines which are designed to be fluid in nature and may be adjusted based on recommendations or mandates from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), state guidelines, and the NCAA to ensure the CIAA is acting in the best interest of the health, welfare, and safety of its student-athletes, administration, partners and fans.
From launching new podcasts, increased social media engagement, and unique outreach to student-athletes and alumni – top CIAA moments and TikTok challenges to name a few – the conference and its schools have found creative opportunities to remain connected during the stay at home order.
“Some of these new opportunities will continue,” Commissioner McWilliams added. “Our fans are reacting positively to the engagement and our corporate partners continue to support these efforts. No matter how our athletic events and championships look going forward, a virtual component will remain a part of the plan. We are a resilient conference and I have complete faith in our Board to keep the CIAA moving in a positive direction.”