Sarah Cornell’s farewell to college athletics was particularly hard-hitting for Greg Byrne.
I’m just going to sit here for awhile pic.twitter.com/SScXCdyF6E
— Sarah Cornell (@Cornball) March 13, 2020
Byrne, the University of Alabama’s Director of Athletics, used her social media post after the cancellation of spring sports as an example for his emotions for UA seniors whose careers ended when the SEC canceled sports for the rest of the calendar year on Tuesday. Byrne addressed it and more in a 20-minute teleconference with reporters on Thursday.
“You just, you feel for them,” Byrne said. “One of the things we sometimes forget, and I have to remember myself: physically, you look at these kids and they’re so developed and they’re able to do things that most of us, including myself, we’re limited in our abilities and they’re doing athletic activities at the highest levels. The work and energy and effort that goes into that, and to see that taken away from them is heartbreaking.”
Granted, it is possible those careers are not over. The NCAA has communicated its work on creating an additional year of eligibility for spring athletes; SEC commissioner Greg Sankey said on a teleconference Wednesday he received eight pages of analysis from the league’s compliance office on the matter.
“Most of that conversation is taking place with the conference office and the NCAA,” Byrne said. “We’re supportive of the spring sports being able to adjust the rosters so if a student-athlete would like to come back, they have the ability to do so. At this point, I don’t know if that would be just seniors or all student-athletes that had a year taken away from them, I think there’s arguments on both sides.
“I’ve been told there’s not a ton of support nationally with the winter sports, but there is openness in the SEC to look at that. At this point, we’re not far enough along to say that’s going to happen for sure, but I know there’s support for the idea of giving the kids the option to do so if they like.”
Byrne also pointed out a tricky aspect of a potential extra year of eligibility, that of the athletes returning on partial scholarships. Since many of UA’s spring sports are equivalency sports that award partial scholarships, baseball and softball included, some players go their entire careers paying for some, if not most, of their school expenses.
“One of the things to think about is our young men and women that are on equivalency scholarships, their ability financially to pay for that for another year,” Byrne said. “It can create financial challenges for many of them, understandably.”
UA is not immune to its own financial impact. Byrne said he believes UA will lose out on, “a couple million dollars,” in the absence of the NCAA basketball tournaments. The athletic department is conducting studies on the financial impact of missing revenues from the completion of baseball and softball seasons.
For now, the department’s biggest financial expenditure — the on-going renovation of Bryant-Denny Stadium — remains unchanged.
“The construction continues. We’re on schedule,” Byrne said. “It’s been a wet spring, but I can tell you we’ve had our regular conversation with our contractors to make sure they’re taking necessary steps in this new reality we’re in.”
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