COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - Sports have taken a backseat as our nation prioritizes tackling the coronavirus outbreak.
Athletes and teams around the country adapt to stay safe, while preparing to play games this fall -- hopefully.
“We have the opportunity to step back and say this is real life,” UofSC Athletics Director Ray Tanner said. “Sports was something that distracted us. It was good. In many cases, it has been a relief for so many people. Not now. Not with a pandemic.”
Gamecock coaches echo similar sentiments to Tanner.
"The most important thing is saving lives and the health and well-being of everyone, including our students and student-athletes," Tanner added.
As for the state of athletics, it’s in limbo. Financially, the University of South Carolina plans to operate that department under a reduced budget. That’s not the focus right now.
Tanner misses games like many of us. Under normal circumstances, Gamecock fans should be enjoying baseball, softball and other spring athletic events.
With canceled spring sports seasons, the NCAA stepped up for the student-athlete. It granted all spring sport student-athletes eligibility to return for another season under the same financial scholarship package they currently receive.
For UofSC, if 100% of those student-athletes do return, it will cost the school more than $1 million in additional scholarships.
“We’d love to have them back,” added Tanner. “This is not the time to worry about dollars. You make adjustments.”
Tanner engages in conference calls daily, Monday through Friday, with SEC leaders on when and how to proceed moving forward.
Football is the engine that drives the Gamecock athletic budget. Whether the season starts on time remains to be seen. Tanner continues to be open-minded on when football could indeed resume.
“We overlap anyway to a certain extent,” Tanner pointed out. “What would be so bad about it?”
Gamecock head football coach Will Muschamp said on Monday in a teleconference that it would take at least eight weeks to prepare his team to play.
Playing meaningful games is not on Muschamp’s mind. His thoughts and prayers remain with the community and first responders on the frontline protecting us.
When it comes to managing the football program, South Carolina, like many around the country, uses virtual programs to stay connected.
“As much as we can, keep guys connected during this time,” Muschamp said. “Keep our spirits up. Stay positive. Stay safe. That’s my message.”
Carolina football has moved from the field and meetings rooms, to at-home conference calls and virtual video sessions with players and coaches.
“We’re talking to our players every day, and that’s the best we can do at this time,” Muschamp said.
Discussions range from playbook install, academics, overall physical and mental health.
“We always talk to our guys -- control what you can control. We got no control over this other than what we can do to help prevent the spread of the virus," Muschamp said. "We understand that. We explained that to our players countless times.”
Carolina stays connected to continue building the program in hopes of competing this fall.
“Proud of our guys handling this new way of doing things academically,” Muschamp said. “Zoom meetings have been outstanding positionally. I’ve been pleased with how our guys have handled it.”
The spring practices Carolina held before the shutdown proved beneficial, especially for the new offensive coordinator, Mike Bobo.
“To be able to get with the players and have a better feel for what guys can do,” Muschamp explained. “I think those five practices were extremely beneficial for us to get us pointed in the right direction.”
Former Gamecock quarterback, Connor Shaw, meets with the team once a week to pass along tips to stay positive and connected. Newly-hired director of strength and conditioning, Paul Jackson, keeps players in shape with pro tips.
“Paul Jackson is giving our guys ideas, whether they have access to weights or not, to work out at home and staying in shape,” Muschamp said.
As of now, eight to 10 players were cleared by the university to remain on campus to rehab injuries.
No player to date has tested positive for COVID-19.