Miami athletic director ‘devastated’ for student-athletes

David Sayler was asked Friday afternoon if he sometimes wondered whether he’d ever wake up from this nightmare.

“Actually, I find myself wanting to sleep a little bit,” the Miami athletics director said. “First and foremost, like everybody else, I’m concerned about the health and safety of everybody. We’ve not seen the end of these cases. All that said, I’m devastated for our student-athletes. They’ve all worked so hard.”

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Sleep had become elusive for Sayler in the last couple of days, starting when he and other Mid-American Conference athletic directors gathered for an 8 a.m. meeting Thursday, the first day of the MAC Tournament at Rocket Mortgage Fieldhouse in Cleveland. The agenda of discussing conference issues quickly morphed into how to handle the ever-changing reactions to helping control the spread the coronavirus.

Discussions went in a matter of hours from cancelling the tournament to cancelling the rest of the college sports seasons. An official of the National Basketball Association’s Cleveland Cavaliers pointed out that the Utah Jazz, which had two players test positive for the illness, had played in the arena 10 days earlier.

“There were a lot of scenarios and lot of options,” he said. “There was a (MAC) presidents’ call that we sat in on. (MAC Commissioner Dr. Jon Steinbrecher) walked us through the options on the table. By the time the call was over, there was this massive tidal wave of cancellations.

“Early in the morning, the only talk was about the tournament. That was the immediate thing at hand. Then they asked us to stay around until 2 (p.m.) to talk about spring sports. We hung out, got some lunch, then reconvened at 2. By then, the dialogue had turned to cancelling spring sports. You could see this coming.

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“I’ve been in the camp of ‘Let’s play. Let’s play. As long as we can play, let’s play.’ Once the health side of things came into play, that wasn’t an option.”

The momentum was so fast that the picture changed from the first pitch of Miami’s baseball game against Penn State to the last out. The RedHawks, according to senior infielder and Hamilton High School graduate Landon Stephens, went into the game anticipating a suspension until March 31. By the end of the game, the season was gone. The teams heard about it from the public address announcer.

“It was all happening so fast,” Sayler said. “Even from the time the game started, there was kind of a national shift. I kind of wish they hadn’t announced it.”

Like many schools, Miami has cancelled in-person classes and resorted to online instruction, allowing many students to go home. The student-athletes who stay in Oxford will have access to training and medical facilities, Sayler said.

“My job has shifted to keeping track of where our kids are going to be and tracking their health issues,” he said. “We want to make sure they keep up with their schoolwork. We’re working with our coaches to set up communication systems so they can stay on top of what’s going on.”

Also unresolved is the possibility of the NCAA granting to spring sports seniors an extra year of eligibility. To Sayler, that was just another example of how quickly things were changing.

“I’ve been asked to be on a call about that topic,” he said. “There’s a lot of dialogue. I’m just trying to keep up with what the campus is doing. There’s a new statement every day. Every day, there’s something to communicate to the coaches and the kids.

“At the end of the day, for myself and my staff, we’re here to offer as much support to the kids as possible.”

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