Everything AD Michael Alford said in response to coronavirus outbreak altering CMU athletics
The coronavirus pandemic forced the Mid-American Conference's hand.
Led by commissioner Jon Steinbrecher, the conference decided to cancel all remaining regular season and championship competitions for the academic year.
Practices are suspended. In-person recruiting has also been halted.
Central Michigan's athletic department is directly impacted by COIVD-19 concerns. Seniors will never compete again as Chippewas. Employees are without tasks to accomplish. Further health precautions have been implemented.
The women's basketball team played in Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse, home of the Cleveland Cavaliers, nine days after the Utah Jazz competed in the same arena. On March 11, the same day as CMU's loss to Toledo in the MAC tournament quarterfinals, Jazz all-star Rudy Gobert tested positive for coronavirus. The next day, Gobert's teammate, Donovan Mitchell, also tested positive for the virus that has spread across the globe.
Athletic director Michael Alford was directly involved in the MAC's decision to cancel the men's and women's basketball tournaments in Cleveland as well as the cancellation of all winter and spring sports.
In his third year as athletic director, Alford said he feels devastated but fully supports the decision from the conference.
"It wasn't an easy decision," Alford said, "but it was the right decision to protect the health and safety of students, fans and community."
Alford made himself available to Central Michigan Life for a phone interview to discuss the outbreak's influence on CMU's athletic department from eligibility, economic and health standpoints.
On what cancellations mean for Central Michigan
"Just talking about CMU athletics overall, it wasn't an easy decision, but it was the right decision to protect the health and safety of students, fans and community. It's never easy. It was a tough decision but the right one. Commissioner Steinbrecher and CMU President Bob Davies, working with them through this process, were great leaders."
On involvement with Steinbrecher, other MAC athletic directors
"We were all together in Cleveland throughout the process."
On speaking with seniors who will no longer play
"Not personally because I was traveling back (from Cleveland). I have spoken to our coaches. I'm going to speak to our lacrosse team right now. That'll be the first time I'm able to get in front of student-athletes other than women's basketball."
On disappointment for seniors that didn't get to finish collegiate careers
"It's gut-wrenching. These student-athletes have worked so hard for this year, this season. You see the hard work and dedication they have for their sport. For it to come to such an abrupt end is hard. There's going to be a lot more information to come out. I know they're working nationally on what they're going to do for these seniors, maybe to get a season of eligibility back. I'm fully supportive of that. I love the concept with the understanding that some details still need to be worked out – financially, roster sizes. A lot of details need to come out, and they will. It's going to take a couple of months for them to get together and do the right thing."
On giving affected seniors an extended year of eligibility
"Provide seniors with an additional season of eligibility, those that had their season cut short. I'm extremely supportive of that concept. There are going to be exemptions with roster sizes. You have freshmen coming in and seniors you thought would be gone but are coming back. Scholarship limits are going to have to be adjusted for that class. A lot of details. The overall concept of allowing another year of eligibility if they decide to come back, I'm 100 percent supportive and believe it's the right thing to do."
On the financial impact to CMU athletics
"Basketball was pretty much finished. The only thing we had left was traveling to tournaments. We are adjusting right now for baseball season ticket holders with refunds for them. We'll have more information coming out regarding that. The good thing is the ones that had season tickets had already concluded those seasons pretty much."
On women's basketball players after playing at Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse
"We're working with our medical professionals here on campus. We're in front of that as student-athletes come back. We've given the best practices and information if they are to start feeling symptoms on who to contact and where to go. That's going out to our student-athletes.
"We're evaluating women's basketball right now. A lot of them went home because of spring break, but we are in constant communication with them and evaluating them to make sure they are fine. The information that came to us from the Utah Jazz was they believe their players were exposed sometime after the game in Cleveland on March 2. According to county and health officials there, they thought the same thing. Those locker rooms have sanitation, along with the training rooms and restrooms. All of that got sanitized five times between March 2 and the tournament."
On looking to medical experts for answers
"We're in daily communication with them. We've got their advice when this came out about the Utah Jazz player and our women's team in the building (nine days later). They gave us the best practices that we needed to be following. And then common sense stuff about coughing, seeking medical care, calling the trainer if you feel sick, contacting your primary care physician if you're at home and avoiding contact. We're just monitoring right now since (the women's basketball team) was in that building."
On full-time employees, student workers
"We are having ongoing discussions about that right now with our campus partners. We have not come to a conclusion yet on that. Right now, it's the health and safety of our student-athletes and talking to them throughout this process."
On handling coronavirus outbreak as athletic director
"It's not in the playbook. You go back to what you stand for and your core values. Number one is the making sure the safety, health and well-being of the student-athletes, including mental health, and anything else we can do we are doing. That's my number one priority – making sure they're fine. I'll be continuing to do that. As more things arrive, we will address them when they come up."