Welcome to the job you have worked to reach your entire career.
Perhaps the most unusual year in the history of college sports.
Things will eventually return to some sense of normalcy for new Indiana Director of Athletics Scott Dolson, but his first month on the job has been anything but what he likely envisioned as he toiled away at the school for more than 30 years.
One indicator of the environment that Dolson walked into as he began the process of taking over on July 1 — Zoom meetings. Lots and lots of Zoom meetings.
“I’ve participated in close to 100 meetings with my fellow ADs in the Big Ten (since March),” Dolson said in a meeting with the media on Thursday. “In a typical, normal time the Athletic Directors meet about four times per year.”
These of course are not normal times, and the conversations have been much more grave during the pandemic.
How do you ensure athletes are safe? How do you keep your department afloat financially? Will there even be any sports this year?
There will come a day when Dolson can begin to implement his long-term plans for the department, but for now he is spending most of his time addressing the crisis of the day.
“The biggest challenge is not being able to take big steps,” Dolson said of his early days on the job. “We have to take baby steps most of the time.”
The most immediate high profile question facing Dolson is whether the football season will move forward, and if so, under what circumstances.
“I thought (Big Ten) Commissioner Warren did a terrific job of answering some of those questions questions yesterday,” Dolson said of the outlook for a 2020 football season. “We’re extremely hopeful, and I feel like we took a nice step yesterday (with the schedule release), but to be totally candid I feel like we’re day to day.”
Of course uncertainty also reigns supreme when it comes to the prospects for a college basketball season.
And the approach inside the department is much the same.
“We’ve talked about basketball but haven’t gotten to the level where I can give you a good feel for where that’s going to be,” Dolson said of the outlook for men’s college basketball. “Taking baby steps is where we are right now.”
FANS IN THE STANDS?
Attendance is one of the big open questions as college football attempts to move forward this fall.
While significant restrictions on the number of fans are widely expected, it isn’t clear what percentage of capacity will be permitted at stadiums around the country.
Penn State announced on Thursday that it will not permit any fans in the stands.
Dolson addressed the current thinking at IU.
“We’ve been working on contingency plans for attendance really for months. I can’t tell you how many different scenarios we’ve put together,” Dolson said.
Indiana will take more of a wait-and-see approach rather than rolling out a plan that must be quickly scrapped as conditions on the ground change.
“We want to wait until the last minute and base those decisions based on where everything is locally, where we are as a University, where we are as a state, and then release that plan at that point,” Dolson said. “I just wouldn’t want to put something out there and then three days later it changes.”
NON-PROFITABLE SPORTS SAFE FOR NOW
While other schools around the country have dropped sports that are a net drag on the athletics department budget, Dolson is hoping to avoid that situation at Indiana.
“I would look at that as a last resort,” Dolson said of IU dropping so-called non-revenue sports. “Something you want to avoid at all costs.”
In one of the more high profile examples, Stanford dropped 11 sports this summer. Connecticut and other schools have also eliminated programs.
The Indianapolis Star recently reported that the IU Athletics department expects a $12 million budget shortfall due to the pandemic.
Other measures have been enacted in an attempt to avoid the elimination of programs.
Head coaches Archie Miller and Tom Allen each donated 10 percent of their salaries back to the school, along with Dolson and former AD Fred Glass.
While it was recently reported that the PAC-12 conference is evaluating a loan program that would allow schools to borrow against future earnings, Dolson indicated that is not something Indiana is looking at right now.
While a last resort, the potential elimination of programs is something that the school has at least included in its forecasts and models.
“It would be malpractice if I didn’t work with our University and internal CFOs to put together every projection possible and really try to look at where that will put us from a revenue standpoint, and also, where will that put us next year,” Dolson said.
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