It was an understandably somber plane ride home from Las Vegas last week, with plenty to discuss between Colorado athletic director Rick George and men’s basketball coach Tad Boyle.
The miserable end to the Buffs’ season — five consecutive losses, including a rout by Washington State in the first round of the Pac-12 Conference tournament — was magnified by the cancellation of the remainder of the league tournament, in addition to the men’s and women’s NCAA Tournaments just hours later.
Given how quickly the situation escalated, with fears regarding the spread of the new coronavirus (COVID-19) casting every aspect of American society into chaos, conversations about a few lost basketball games felt inappropriate. On Tuesday, George hosted a media conference call updating the athletics situation at CU, while also providing a little more background on what proved to be a wild and unprecedented turn of events over 24 hours in Las Vegas.
“Things happen. You go to bed thinking one thing, and you wake up and there’s another thing on your doorstep,” George said. “What we’ve learned very quickly is we’ve got to be very adaptive, and when we can’t be proactive, we should be. I was a little bit surprised things escalated so quickly, but I support all the decisions that were made, whether it was cancelling our tournament or the NCAA Tournament. I think it’s the right thing to do. We’ve been trying to be part of the solution.
“Tad and I spoke very briefly. We came back together on the plane from Las Vegas, but we didn’t really do a deep dive into the end of the season and what that looked like. We will do that at the appropriate time. Obviously the things that transpired between that (WSU) game Wednesday night and where we are today, my focus has really been on the student-athletes and what we’re doing operationally in our department.”
George reiterated on several occasions he has been rolling with the punches this past week while prioritizing the safety of CU’s student-athletes. There will be time to address basketball matters of importance, such as his annual season-end meeting with Boyle, and the trivial, such as whether Boyle will receive his contractual bonus for reaching the NCAA Tournament, at a later date.
“There’s been some discussion around our league on (the incentives), but to be frank that’s the least of my concerns right now and it’s probably the least of Tad’s concerns,” George said. “I’m really focused on what we’re doing to protect the health and wellness of our student-athletes. Honestly I’ve given that (incentive) zero thought.”
Last weekend, the NCAA announced it is exploring ways to allow spring sport athletes, whose entire seasons have been canceled, to retain the missed year of eligibility. Details have yet to be finalized, but George is supportive of the effort.
“I know our conference is working on a conversation with that with the NCAA, and I know the NCAA is taking up a lot of these discussions relative to eligibility,” George said. “Because there is a lot of questions and concerns not only from the seniors, but the underclassmen on what that will look like.
“I don’t think you’ll see a solution in the next few weeks. I think that’s going to take a little bit of time to vet all of that out relative to both the winter sports and the spring season.”
Safe at home
The CU ski team was in Bozeman, Mont for the NCAA championships. The track and field team was in Albuquerque, N.M., for the NCAA indoor championships. And the men’s basketball team was in Las Vegas, the culmination of three consecutive weeks of travel.
Despite all of these potentially high-risk situations, George said to his knowledge none of CU’s student-athletes have even been suspected of having contracted COVID-19.
“We have protocols we discuss not only with our student-athletes, but with our staff,” George said. “If you have any symptoms, there’s a certain protocol that they follow. We’re doing everything that we can to keep our student-athletes and our staff at low-risk.”
Supporting the support
George said the athletics staff is operating at a bare minimum on campus, with most staff members currently working remotely. He also indicated that students who work in athletics will continue to get paid during the campus shutdown.
“We’re down to a pretty skeletal staff on-site. Most of our staff has been working remotely since the campus came out with the communication that we were going to learn remotely,” George said. “We will make sure our student assistants that have been working for us that have been relying on that, they’ll continue to be paid. We’re engaging our staff as often as we can.”