As a young man, Jamie Pollard ran cross country and track at the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh so you know that as much as any athletic director around, he cares about the minor sports programs.
Iowa State’s veteran AD loves volleyball. He adores soccer. He’s ga-ga about golf and crazy about cross country.
But you’ll have to forgive Pollard if he is almost entirely focused on football right now.
The current crisis surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic demands it.
"Football is about 75 to 80% of our revenue," Pollard said on ISU’s virtual tour Wednesday night. "It’s the engine that pulls the train."
It’s pretty much that way at every school in NCAA Division I. Football is the universal cash cow.
So if there isn’t a college football season this fall, it will be really, really bad. If there is a football season and no fans are allowed into the stadiums, it will be very nearly as bad.
Pollard feels fortunate to have stocked his athletic program with coaches who understand his current preoccupation.
"What’s good is we have a culture in our department that I actually can meet with our coaches and have just an open dialog about that issue and have them know that from the bottom of my heart we care about them," Pollard said.
"But why we care about them is because we want them to be able to be here this fall to compete, and their ability to be here this fall to compete is contingent upon football playing. If football can’t play and we can’t have fans in the stands, the financial hit is so significant that it will impact those other sports."
Pollard admitted he can’t go anywhere these days without being asked pointed questions about a season that is still more than three months away.
At this point, he is fairly optimistic that there will be football.
"Clearly, we have some hurdles we need to overcome by getting the football team back, getting them into football activities and then be able to go through fall practice before we go live in September," he said. "But I fully suspect that Sept. 5 we’ll be playing a football game in Jack Trice Stadium.
"The challenge that we’re going to have as it stands today is: Where are we going to be as a society, both in what the leaders of our state are going to be willing to allow and what our fans going to be willing to do?"
Unless social distancing guidelines change drastically, it is likely schools might only be able to play in stadiums at 50% capacity. That would mean no more than 30,000 fans in Jack Trice.
Pollard said the Cyclones currently have 22,000 season ticket renewals so very few people other than season ticket holders may get into the place.
Of course, a lot could change between now and Sept. 5.
Maybe even for the better. It’s all guesswork right now.
Because of the unusual circumstances, Pollard said ISU will have some special policies regarding season tickets.
Fans who choose not to renew because of COVID-19 fears or financial hardships will be able to keep their rights to season tickets.
"For 2021, you would go back to having rights to season tickets," Pollard said. "We’re not going to hold that against somebody. We get it."
If someone already has renewed but is not comfortable using the tickets because of the pandemic, they would receive a refund and also retain their rights.
It would seem that some of the universities around the country barely have started to think about things that ISU already has resolved.
It has been ahead of almost everyone in anticipating and addressing problems prompted by COVID-19.
It was among the first schools to temporarily reduce salaries for coaches and some other athletic department employees. It did that on April 1, creating a total savings of about $4 million.
Pollard said it was an easy decision. He knew the school already had lost $5 million in postseason basketball revenue and was almost certainly going to take a financial hit in other ways.
"It just felt like the best thing to do was to attack that and then address it upfront so that we could then make decisions," he said.
He credits ISU president Dr. Wendy Wintersteen and the Board of Regents for letting him get that accomplished quickly and smoothly.
"We weren’t first because we were trying to be first," he said. "We were first because our culture allowed us to be first."
It helped that all those understanding coaches readily agreed to the reduction without having to consult their agents and attorneys.
"They’re all people who knew what the right thing to do was and they didn’t blink," Pollard said.
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