Who will decide when athletics can return? NDSU president says good question

NDSU President Dean Bresciani flashes the Bison horns as he walks past fans outside of Toyota Stadium in Frisco, Texas, on Saturday, Jan. 11, 2020. David Samson / The Forum

FARGO — There is the “if” or “when” college athletics resume in this country, in light of the COVID-19 pandemic that has shut down the country. But what about the “who?”

Who will decide when it’s safe to resume athletics? That’s a question Missouri Valley Football Conference commissioner Patty Viverito had after her Division I Football Oversight Committee had a conference call with Brian Hainline, the chief medical officer for the NCAA.

There was no answer.

North Dakota State president Dean Bresciani doesn’t have an answer, either.

“That is a heck of a question,” he said. “I think it’s right in parallel to who is going to decide it’s safe to come back to campuses or who is going to decide the pandemic is over? Everybody looking around the room — whether it’s the virus itself or the implications of the virus — who’s going to want to hold their hand up and say, ‘I approve of life going on as it used to be?’”


Bresciani said, although difficult, the call by the NCAA to cancel tournaments and spring seasons was in relative terms easier than the call will be to resume athletics, whenever that may be. His best guess is the NCAA would probably turn to some aspect of national authority.

“And that’s all it is, guessing,” he said. “Would it be the President of the United States? Is it the World Health Organization? It’s a really big unknown.”

Viverito said the call with Hainline carried a lot of “what ifs” with football. It did, however, result in the NCAA establishing a “fall sports planning group” that would primarily focus on football. Other fall sports would also be involved in the process.

Ultimately, however, Viverito, a member of the Oversight Committee, said it may not be up to the athletic departments to make that call. It goes deeper than that.

“It’s not just athletics, it’s higher ed,” she said.

She said each state may have different parameters in what a return would look like. She said Hainline talked about how the coronavirus will have different peaks in different states and the importance of testing for immunity.

“All the medical things that are a prerequisite in moving forward,” Viverito said. “His thought is the two most important things are you have to have a controlled low infection rate and a health care infrastructure. It’s a micro-community of all systems that need to be in place before we’re reintegrated.”

Moving forward will include more than just the NCAA and higher education.


Other bodies that may be part of it include the College Football Coaches Association and student-athlete groups.

“I would think smart coaches are imagining everything from things resuming as normal to we have a late season to we move the season or it doesn’t return,” Bresciani said. “Those are all different scenarios but I can’t imagine anyone saying they confidently know what’s going to happen this fall.”

Bresciani said he would tie athletes returning to the field to school being in session, “but what does in session mean?” School at NDSU is still in session, albeit almost exclusively with online classes.

And if that doesn’t happen this fall, the fallout financially could be enormous.

“I’m very concerned any Division I programs will be able to survive financially if we don’t have a football season,” Bresciani said. “Football at the Division I level is typically one of the biggest driver of athletic program budgets. It will be difficult."

The NDSU athletic department has a budget this year of $24.8 million. Beyond that, there is no rainy day fund to handle unexpected emergencies.

“We don’t live that lifestyle so to speak,” Bresciani said. “Do we have operating reserves? Yes. But do we have reserves to accommodate an entire athletic program in the way that football revenues do? No. I don’t know there are other schools in the nation that do. Some of the Power Five maybe have some room in that area, but that would not be a typical thing to expect of an athletic program, at least in my experience.”


North Dakota State University President Dean Bresciani watches the action unfold during the first day of Bison football practice on August 3, 2018. David Samson / The Forum

Jeff would like to dispel the notion he was around when Johannes Gutenberg invented the printing press, but he is on his third decade of reporting with Forum Communications. The son of a reporter and an English teacher, and the brother of a reporter, Jeff has worked at the Jamestown Sun, Bismarck Tribune and since 1990 The Forum, where he's covered North Dakota State athletics since 1995.
Jeff has covered all nine of NDSU's Division I FCS national football titles and has written three books: "Horns Up," "North Dakota Tough" and "Covid Kids." He is the radio host of "The Golf Show with Jeff Kolpack" April through August.
What To Read Next
Get Local