Navy athletic director Chet Gladchuk joined Glenn Clark Radio April 22 to discuss why a canceled football season would be “catastrophic” for athletic departments across the country, possible contingency plans and more. This has been edited for clarity and content.
PressBox: Let’s start with the spring sports. The NCAA offered an extra year of eligibility, but not every school is dealing with service assignments and things that you have to deal with. It’s probably not going to be an option for all the athletes at the Naval Academy, correct?
Chet Gladchuk: It’s not an option. Our guys and gals, they come here – and they are very good athletes, take a look at our track record in sports, including football. We bring in some pretty good people that are really focused on having a wonderful intercollegiate experience. But having said that, they know that their calling in life is to serve in the military, whether it be the Navy or Marines. So the football season goes on, we have a great year. The winter goes on, we have a great year. Spring comes about, everyone just shifts gears. As disappointed as they are, they know it’s the Navy, it’s the Marines [that] is their primary calling as a commissioned officer. The big game is coming. That’s May 22 or 23 when they’re commissioned. That’s what they’re focused on now.
PB: Now attention turns toward the fall, and football for so many reasons is the focus of that. You’ve said that you’re hopeful about the season starting on time, but where does hopeful meet tangible as far as football is concerned?
CG: We’re still in the hopeful stage. We meet regularly with our conference affiliates, our membership and everyone is just on the edge of their seat in trying to anticipate a season one way or another – delayed, on time under some configuration. Those [who] follow it closely know that football is basically the engine behind virtually every Division I FBS program. We’ve got to find a way to make it work. The revenue is so significant it carries the rest of the program through the course of the year. We know that the [coronavirus] is just an uncertainty, but there isn’t anyone yet willing to admit or throw in any towel on any front that there will not be a football season.
It may in turn be reality, that hope may be diminished somewhere down the road but we’re not there yet. We’re thinking more middle of June before we’ve got to make any real hard decisions, but right now the scenarios are flowing. The what-ifs are flowing. Reporting in August is still on the table. The precautionary measures that would need to be put in place if in fact we report, the speculation of season tickets and attendance is still being debated. I really can’t give you a definitive today other than we’re still at a wing and a prayer, but everyone realized how important the season is to everyone, each of the institutions.
PB: We talked to Ken Niumatalolo a couple of weeks ago. He laid out the scenario where he just says, “I think it’s more likely that we would just push back the season than that we would play to empty stadiums. It just doesn’t seem like it would work, trying to do it with empty stadiums.” Do you get the sense that if we get to that point, if we have to go to a contingency plan, it would be more likely that we would delay or postpone the start of the season than it would be that we would try to play games with no one there to watch them?
CG: I appreciate Kenny always. He’s a wonderful associate and a great guy to work with. But it’s an opinion. That’s all it is. He’s just throwing a dart against the wall. He has no more of an understanding than anyone else in the situation because it’s a moving target. I think that one of the key elements in the entire equation is students back on campus. I think that seems to be a consistent train of thought right now. The football season, the way it starts and the way it unfolds, will be predicated on the institutions bringing their students back and creating an environment in which we can regroup.
Playing in empty stadiums? Hypothetical. [Starting] in November? Hypothetical. Who knows right now. Could we move the season back? Yeah, I think we could. Could we start in October? We probably could. November? It’s going to get chilly up there in Michigan, but I think the bottom line is anything and everything is on the table, with the bottom line being that the revenue is critically important to sustaining any sense of normalcy within an athletic department. Who knows how it’ll unfold, but every possibility is still being tossed around and debated.
PB: For some reason if there were to be no football, would this be a doomsday scenario that would wreck college athletics? Is the idea crazy that one lost football season could have a crippling effect on certain athletic departments throughout the country?
CG: It’s catastrophic. There’s no question about it. There’s so many institutions that rely on some degree of external revenue generation to meet their needs, especially the Olympic sports, the non-revenue programs. Something has to give. If you take the Naval Academy, I wouldn’t say we are completely self-sustaining but we are very close to a self-sustaining fiscal operation. We start with what we call a zero-base budget. And I start with selling my first ticket to the first game and of course it accumulates from there on, so it’s going to force a lot of athletic directors at most institutions to make some very, very difficult decisions, but decisions that are dictated by circumstances that are beyond our control. No one created this huge deficit. No one created a situation that was as detrimental as this can be. If it was imposed on us, we’re going to have to act accordingly.
It’s game time. If football season does not unfold, some huge percentage of expenses are going to fall back directly on an institution in terms of the institution’s ability to be able to sustain the programs, and you can be sure that presidents have all kinds of pressures coming at them in terms of financial requirements and needs just to float the ship. Athletics is just one component. It’s going to be a lot of pressure on a lot of institutions. A lot of ADs will have tough decisions to make. It’s going to be of great significance – catastrophic in the traditional sense of traditionally what’s offered.
PB: That probably seems to line up with why there would be more creativity and more time to try to figure out a way to make this thing work.
CG: Shortened seasons, minimized championships, staff reductions, player reductions, fewer games, less travel. All of it’s on the table right now, and that’s what we’re all looking at and thinking about today, but again, with the expectation and the hope that, hey, we’re still 16 weeks from kickoff in Dublin. I’m not throwing in the towel yet. We’re still making plans.
To hear more from Gladchuk, listen to the full interview here:
Photo Credit: Courtesy of Navy Athletics