The New Normal How COVID-19 is impacting life on and off campus for NCAA members

More than a month ago on a Monday morning, I heard about Ohio State converting classes to online in reaction to COVID-19 concerns. I shared this with my staff and asked them to research Zoom, GoBoard and any other potential programs we could use should that happen on our campus. At that time, we were a little in shock and did not truly envision it happening here.

Within two days, that all changed.

Our campus extended spring break another week, and faculty were instructed to convert all classes to online for the rest of the term. The adjustment for my staff and student-athletes began.

No different than my student-athlete development colleagues across the country, what I love most about my job is seeing my staff and student-athletes working together, in daily study hall and one-on-one meetings. I love seeing that firsthand impact on our student-athletes’ lives.

COVID-19 has changed our normal, and it has been challenging and emotional for all of us. We cannot see our student-athletes in person; everything is virtual. It’s not easy. Even though my home office is comfortable, has a window and an unlimited supply of coffee, it is missing the personal connection to my amazing staff and student-athletes.

I am so proud of how my staff acted quickly and devised a great plan (the extra week of spring break helped) to support our student-athletes with virtual academics, career development and planning for life after sport. Through FaceTime, Zoom, Loom, text groups and, of course, email, we have been super intentional about keeping things as consistent as possible during this challenging time. These collaborative efforts include:

  • 300+ Zoom support sessions a week (tutoring, academic mentoring, learning specialist one-on-one sessions).
  • Structured Zoom team study hall sessions.
  • Academic advising.
  • Biweekly full staff meetings (Zoom) and academic counselor meetings.
  • Academic enrichment and student-athlete enhancement weekly staff meetings (Zoom).
  • One-on-one weekly meetings with staff members (Zoom).

Initially, we felt good about where our student-athletes were heading into this “homebound” situation, in terms of access to internet and laptops, as well as their ability to adjust. However, two weeks in, reality set in.

We had several student-athletes who discovered they did not have reliable resources at home and several who struggled without the normal structure we provide. Similar to nonathletes or the stories circulating nationally, it is just not that simple to expect all students to successfully transition to all online classes in their homes, with family and siblings homebound at the same time. I am proud of Ole Miss Athletics and how we have been creative with resources to accommodate our student-athletes who are away from campus and struggling.

Above all else, it’s important our student-athletes know we’re still here for them — as people first —during an emotionally challenging time. We must do the same for our staff members. Grace and patience are traits we all should be focused on at a time like this.

Below are a few of the examples of the impact that COVID-19 has had on my staff that I did not anticipate:

  • A student-athlete’s father has COVID-19 and is in critical condition in the hospital.
  • A staff member’s mother has COVID-19 and is several hours away.
  • A staff member’s blood pressure reached a dangerous level and nearly led to a hospital visit — anxiety and stress played a role, no doubt.
  • Multiple staff members have learned how to be homebound teachers for their own children along with proctoring Zoom study halls and tutoring sessions with their student-athletes.
  • Staff members have experienced internet issues due to multiple children at home at the same time with online schoolwork.
  • Staff members are experiencing anxiety and worry about our student-athletes, as well as potential unpaid furloughs, layoffs or institutional budget issues that are starting to circulate nationally.

While I am super proud of my staff and student-athletes for how they have adjusted to life during a truly scary pandemic, I pray every day that it ends soon and we can all return to “normal” life. Stay safe, everyone.

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