ACC readies for unprecedented sports season

Tech basketball coach Josh Pastner is hoping that the ACC will be able to conduct their basketball season this year. Many pundits believe this could be the best team Pastner has had since coming to Tech. // Photo by James Messer, Student Publications

The uncertainty that has existed across the globe over the past four months can also be felt hovering over the 2020 fall sports season in the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC). 

The first fall sports decision by the ACC came when they announced that all Olympic sports would be postponed until the beginning of September. The decision, unanimously approved by the ACC board of directors, pushed back women’s and men’s cross country, volleyball, soccer and women’s field hockey. 

Schools are under the understanding that financial penalties for cancelled events will be lifted if they are not able to be rescheduled. This move was the first by a Power 5 conference and followed the cancellation of the fall season by the Ivy League. The football season is set to begin on Sept. 2 and has been altered to include ten inter-conference games (there will be no Atlantic and Coastal divisions this year), plus one game against an out-of-conference opponent. 

The Big Ten, Pac 12, and SEC conferences all announced that their games would be in conference only, meaning that the annual rivalry game between U[sic]GA and Tech will not be played for the first time since 1925. Other classic ACC-SEC rivalry games with a long and storied history, such as South Carolina/Clemson and Florida/Florida State, will also go unplayed this season. 

This move would also seemingly leave Notre Dame, a school unaffiliated with any conference, with no football schedule. However, the program was saved from this doomsday scenario when the ACC agreed to “adopt” the team for the year. For this year only, they are eligible to compete for the conference title, and are currently scheduled to face off with the Jackets on Halloween. 

Some schools have taken a more drastic approach. This past week, the University of Connecticut followed the lead of the Ivy League and became the first FBS school to cancel their football season entirely. It is largely understood that every school considers the cancellation of football as a financial reckoning. The loss of ticket sales, merchandise, and televised games would cost colleges billions of dollars in revenue typically spread out among less profitable sports. 

Most of the talk surrounding college football is highly speculative, with the many possibilities including socially distanced stadiums, moving certain sports to the spring, and including “make-up weeks” in the schedule that would allow for the sudden cancellation of a game due to an outbreak of the coronavirus. Several such outbreaks have already been seen within the ACC, with Clemson having 37 players test positive at one point. 

The University of North Carolina had to temporarily cancel practices after multiple athletes tested positive. Tech itself has had several of their athletes test positive, all following the quarantine protocols set by the NCAA.

With the financial impact of the coronavirus looming over athletic departments, some have already started instituting pay cuts. Wake Forest head coach Dave Clawson was one of the first to take a voluntary pay cut in April. Around that time, Louisville furloughed some of its staff members. Virginia and Syracuse soon followed suit. 

According to an ESPN survey, six ACC schools have handed out pay cuts to football and men’s basketball coaches, who are known to receive sizable contracts. The highest paid name on the list, Duke men’s basketball coach Mike Krzyzewski, makes $7.3 million per year. Notably absent from the list was Clemson football coach Dabo Swinney, who currently stands as the highest paid coach in all of college sports at $9.3 million per year. 

Tech has instituted furloughs and cuts of its own. Any faculty or staff making over $154,000 per year will face a 6.2% reduction in pay, which will affect football coach Geoff Collins along with athletic director Todd Stansbury, basketball coaches Nell Fortner and Josh Pastner, and many assistant coaches.

So far, Tech has avoided cutting any sports due to COVID-19, something that has already been seen across the landscape of college sports. The virus has put the NCAA in a reactionary position with little concrete information or a clear path forward, and the decisions that are made now are likely to have consequences for many years down the road.