Spartans Athletic Director Bill Beekman provides an update on all things MSU Athletics on MSU Today.
Most of us are in our sixth week of working remotely, and in many ways it feels much longer for a lot of people. So much has changed in that relatively short period of time. Beekman keeps the safety and health of MSU student athletes at the forefront of all the decisions he’s making as he prepares for a future where information and the situation constantly change.
“On the one hand, it feels like we've been in this mode forever. On the other hand, in the greater scheme of things, it's been a relatively short period of time,” says Beekman. “The watchword of so much of what we're doing is that, as Dr. Fauci now has famously said, ‘The virus controls the timeline.’ There are things that we can do to try and impact that, staying at home obviously being a key factor right now, but really, the virus will control the timeline.
“We've been working very hard to do two things simultaneously. We're working hard to make sure that we're ready for whenever we can get closer to our normal operations or to a new normal in operations. We've got people out making sure that the fields are in good shape and that our softball, baseball, soccer, football, and other fields are appropriately maintained.
“And we have a whole crew of people working very, very hard to make sure that our student-athletes are taken care of. They're spread across the globe, 800 young men and women. Some are still in East Lansing. Others are scattered across the country, and others are living in international places. They have the tools they need to stay in shape both mentally and physically. This week, they're completing their exams and we're making sure that they've got all kinds of tools to stay in good physical health, good mental health, and complete their academic work as scheduled.”
Beekman confers with his fellow Big Ten athletic directors via conference call every weekday morning. They’re making several different contingency plans for getting back to normal or to a new normal. And they’re thinking ahead to the 2020 football season.
“We’re looking at every different option and then trying to think two, three, four chess moves down the board because invariably, what we're faced with at the end of the day will be something different than we're thinking about now. There will be factors and issues that we may not be able to anticipate. That means we've just got to work harder to think through every issue that we possibly can so that we're ready.
“You want to get far enough down the road so that you're ready, but not too far down any road that you're getting stuck. It's just really a lot of talking and a lot of planning.
“From my perspective at MSU, our first principle in every case is the health, safety, and wellbeing of our student-athletes. Our second principle is that we're a student-focused organization trying to do what's in the best interest of our student-athletes. Those two principles guide what we do at MSU.”
Games and practices are canceled, but that doesn't mean the department isn't working. And departments like strength and conditioning and academic support are working as hard or harder than ever as they work remotely.
“I think as we debrief on this experience, we'll discover that many of those remote approaches are things that we may be able to implement on a more regular basis when we have teams traveling, for example, and how we think about students when they're remote, even though they're in the midst of their season. I'm excited that there are some silver linings in all of this that will make our athletic department stronger and better over the long run.
“At Michigan State, we're first and foremost an academic institution. Our primary consideration is getting our 50,000 students back on campus. It's my great hope that in one fashion or another we can do that. Certainly, sitting here towards the end of April, there's a lot of time and a lot of circumstance and a lot to happen between now and then, but that would certainly be my great hope. Assuming we can do that, then we can move on next to our 800 student-athletes and getting them back in the groove of their academics first and their sport second.”
Beekman says Michigan State's athletic budget does not receive general fund dollars. He discusses some of the budget discussions going on in athletics and what happened financially when the NCAA men's basketball tournament was canceled. He says there are about 25 athletic departments in the country that receive no funding from their university. “MSU is very proud to be one of those departments.
“The tuition revenue and state appropriations the university receives, not one penny of that goes to the athletic department. We're completely self-sufficient and we run on a separate budget. It's certainly still under the realm and auspices of our president and our board of trustees, but financially, it's distinct. That allows our university's academic resources to be focused on academics, which is something I'm very proud of.
“Our budget in athletics is about $140 million. Like every Big Ten school or every autonomy five conference school or the schools in the Pac-12 or the SEC, our football revenue makes up over half of our department budget. Without football, we really are in a pickle. We're in a very challenging environment.
“This is a tragic time in the history of our community, our country, and our world. I think at this point, most everybody knows somebody that's been affected by this horrible virus. Many of us know people who have passed away as a result of the virus. My heart really does go out to everybody who's been impacted or has had a family member or a loved one or friend impacted by this.
“Yet at the same time, I do think that in terms of the way I live my life, I'm a fairly optimistic person and I'm always trying to find the silver lining in the gray cloud. In the case of what we're going through now, I think there are a number of real silver linings. In terms of our athletic department, I've just been extraordinarily impressed by the creativity, the entrepreneurship, the innovation, and the resilience of our staff.
“Our team has just really pulled up their bootstraps and got to work and are doing things that, really, there's no playbook for. You're just winging it based on your best judgment some of the time. There's no playbook for what you do here, so you go back to your principles. You try and make thoughtful decisions that are in the best interest of the department and you push forward. Our team really has done that.
“In terms of our ticket office, we've never been selling tickets in a pandemic before or thinking about how seasons will start. The work that they're doing to give people flexibility has been appreciated in the community. The work of our strength and conditioning and nutrition teams that I mentioned earlier, again, very, very creative and forward-thinking and developing practices that we'll be able to take and use even after this passes that will make our department better.
“Really, my heart is warmed by the extraordinary hard work of our team, the compassion that they bring to what they do, and the creativity and resilience that they've exhibited that I think will make MSU Athletics far stronger in the long run.”