Zags Prepare for Whatever Comes After Virus

Mike Roth speaks at a Zag Talks event

May 05, 2020
Dale Goodwin ('86)

In his traditional unpretentious manner, Athletic Director Mike Roth addressed a multitude of questions from Gonzaga athletic fans and supporters, alumni, friends and Trustees of Gonzaga, April 29 via Zoom.

Roth expressed his sadness for his nearly 350 student-athletes whose seasons, and in some cases, careers, have been cut short by this imposing COVID-19 foe. But he cited former team physician Arnie Peterson telling him long ago, “Luck is when preparation meets opportunity. And that’s what we have done, going back to 1999 and continuing forward . . . prepare for this opportunity.”

Roth said he, his staff and the University as a whole will be prepared for whatever the future holds.

“Our future is determined by a shared determination and vision that we are all pulling in the same direction to navigate through this process. We are going to be here because of the leadership we have throughout our University administration, which is as cohesive a group as I’ve seen in my many years here. Our Trustees are onboard. We’re all in this together,” Roth said

Unlikely Athletics will Return until Campuses are Open

As of May, little is known about how and when intercollegiate athletics will return. Roth is confident that student-athletes will not return to campus until the student body is allowed to return. In a conference call of the nation’s athletic directors, Roth cited Ohio State’s Gene Smith saying, “If it’s not safe for our fans to come to the games, is it safe for our student-athletes?” Roth said he doesn’t foresee games without fans.

As for the fall season, football seems to be the driving force. If football doesn’t start on time, “it would be tough to justify volleyball or cross country starting on time,” Roth said.

If the fall season is pushed back, say to an October start, the question becomes: “Do fall sports play a shortened season, or do they play a full season while winter and spring sports are pushed back accordingly? The impact is significant as arenas and fields are already scheduled around the country.  

“Our baseball team was getting ready to board the bus and head to the airport when we got word that we had to shut down all athletics,” Roth said. While Gonzaga saved some spring expenses, its funding from the NCAA is cut by 70% due to the cancellation of the men’s basketball tournament. “It’s like coming home and telling your family we have to cut our food budget to just 30% of what we’re used to.”

Staying Connected to Student-Athletes

Meanwhile, coaches are staying in contact with their team members, making sure they are well and focusing on their academic endeavors, while trainers and conditioning coaches are checking in to make sure students are receiving proper treatments for lingering injuries, and players are working out on their own to maintain strength and condition. And because of the limitations on foreign travel, some of Gonzaga’s student-athletes may struggle to find a way back to campus in the near future.

Roth said coaches continue to recruit in virtual mode through Zoom, social media, texting. This is a very active time. “All schools are on an even playing field here. Everyone is under the same rules. We’re continuing to sign student-athletes.”

Roth Answers Variety of Questions

Here are some quick hits on Roth’s answers on other questions.

  • No athletics staff or student-athletes from Gonzaga have tested positive for COVID-19.
  • Men’s basketball standouts Corey Kispert, Joel Ayaya and Filip Petrusev have declared for the NBA draft, without signing with an agent. They have until June 3 to withdraw from the draft and return to Gonzaga. “Our hope is those three guys will all come back, unless they are targeted to be first-round draft picks. If they all come back and are here on campus later this summer, along with three highly touted recruits and a redshirt, we may be the No. 1 ranked team in the country coming in. We’re the only team in the country that won 31 games this year, and we were ranked No. 2 in the country ending the season.
  • Name, Likeness and Image is pending NCAA consideration. It means students can cut their own deals with sponsors, and institutions cannot be involved in any deals. The earliest it would come into effect would be fall 2021.
  • The vast majority of student-athletes went home, including many of GU’s international students.
  • Gonzaga’s top concern is to assure the safety of fans, student-athletes and the Gonzaga community. “We’ll do it the same way everyone else is doing it. We will not put people at risk, whether that be in athletics or on campus and in the classroom,” Roth said.
  • Gonzaga’s 26 senior spring 2020 athletes, most of whom have graduated, can come back and compete next spring if they choose; however, many of them have jobs and are ready to move on.
  • There are no deadlines or conditions for how and when student-athletes can start practicing and playing again.
  • A veteran NBA scout recently commented on the atmosphere and fun created by the Kennel Club, making Gonzaga’s arena on par with the best in the country. “Our staff has been working with Kennel Club leadership to see what things we can change to make their student experience even better,” Roth said.
  • GU Athletics has not furloughed or laid employees to this point, instead working to balance the budget through reduced operating expenses. No plans are afoot to cut any sports.
  • No scholarships or financial aid have been touched. Roth said, “We don’t want to take anything away from students.
  • To basketball season ticket holders: ‘What you had last season is what you’ll have this season or, heaven forbid, the following season if we don’t have a season.”

A Positive Approach Moving Forward 

Roth reminded viewers of this: “We are the country’s best example of winning in the classroom and winning on the court. All our student-athletes graduate, while competing at a very high level in their sports.

“We have something very special here. It’s not the buildings that make us special, it’s the people that occupy our buildings – our staff, faculty, students, coaches, fans, benefactors, alumni and supporters. Our No. 1 focus is on our students, and our No. 1A focus is on our employees at Gonzaga.

“We’ve never been more unified than we are now in working to survive this. This spring everything got shut down, and we have been doing a good job of sharpening our pencils and getting through this financially. President Thayne McCulloh deserves great credit for making tough, and all the right, decisions.

“What makes me proud is the impact our student-athletes can make on the lives of others, in what they say and how they handle themselves. Same with our coaches and staff. A mom of a student-athlete gave me a placket that read: The true character of a person is judged in how they treated someone without any expectation in return. Another said: People are judged by what people do when no one else is looking.

“It’s all about doing the right thing. That’s what Gonzaga does.

“When we all pull together, we don’t lose,” Roth concluded.