Miami University athletic director on cancellation of fall season: ‘My heart hurts for the kids'

MAC becomes first FBS conference to cancel entire season

Miami’s football, field hockey and volleyball teams might have to wait at least a year to defend the Mid-American Conference championships they earned last season.

The MAC announced Saturday morning the “postponement” of fall sports due to the COVID-19 pandemic, becoming the first Football Bowl Subdivision conference, the highest level of college football, to impose a blanket cancellation of an entire season. The announcement followed a unanimous vote of conference university presidents. Affected sports are men’s and women’s cross country, field hockey, football, men’s and women’s soccer and women’s volleyball.

“Obviously, this is a truly tough day, especially for the student-athletes who have worked so hard and have been taking everything so seriously,” Miami Athletic Director David Sayler said during a midday Zoom interview session. “They’ve been doing all the right things, but this is something that makes sense. When you look at the bigger picture, this is the right decision for health and safety.”

Athletes have been working out and practicing on Miami’s Oxford campus, hoping for the chance to compete this fall. They haven’t been in locker rooms, Sayler said, but they’ve been on fields and reporting to what he described as a “makeshift workout facility” while hoping to actually compete.

The football RedHawks were scheduled to open their season at Pittsburgh on Sept. 5 before playing Arkansas-Pine Bluff at Yager Stadium on Sept. 12.

Whether athletes will continue to be able to convene for workouts was unknown, Sayler said. Much will depend on how other programs and conferences proceed.

“I wouldn’t say we’ll be in a complete shutdown,” said Sayler, who also serves as chair of the MAC Council of Director Athletics. “A lot of that will be dictated by how campuses dictate their class situation. The NCAA hasn’t weighed in yet. A lot of that will be dictated at Miami by when we decide when it’s safe to have a higher level of practice.”

Also immediately unknown is the status of the student-athletes themselves. Some may decide to stay at Miami. Some of those may elect to take a redshirt year. Some may try to transfer to schools in conferences that expect to have games and matches.

Sayler left open the possibility of fall sports convening seasons in the spring for some games.

“I personally think it’s very viable,” he said. “Potentially, it could be better for the fans than if fall had happened when you consider the attendance restrictions. The challenge in this part of the country is playing football in February. At this point, it’s all fluid.”

Playing traditionally fall sports in the spring actually could help athletic departments weather the financial hit of not staging events this autumn, he added.

“If fall would have gone on without fans, it would have been a challenging dynamic,” he said. “If you extrapolate this out, let’s say you’re Ohio State and you can do only 20 percent (attendance) in the fall. What if you can do 80 percent in the spring?

“I’m looking forward to having a really busy spring running all sorts of events,” he added. “ESPN has already reached out about televising some events.”

Sayler admitted to mixed feelings about the decision.

“My heart hurts for the kids,” he said. “Our student-athletes have been tremendous ambassadors for the school. The burden of making this decision has been a heavy one, but what’s comforting is we know we’re doing it for the right reasons. Most of them have been affected by it by now. They read about it. Their questions have been more prevalent in the last 48 hours. Deep down, most of them understand.”

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