GELYON: Return of SBU athletics will be result of a team effort

photo courtesy of gobonnies.sbu.edu

By Nic Gelyon

ST. BONAVENTURE, NY — As I spoke to student-athletes, coaches and representatives from the St. Bonaventure University athletic department about their effort to curb COVID-19 and return to action, I found that I wasn’t finding what I expected.

 I was looking for the moral dilemma. The internecine fight. 

Everybody felt too optimistic when I was talking to them. It was all too happy. 

But then I realized that St. Bonaventure has only had three positive coronavirus cases. The whole semester. All positive cases have since recovered. 

There is nothing to criticize. There is nothing to pick apart. There are no battles between coaches and presidents – ahem, Big 10 conference. There is absolutely nothing to be mad at. Nothing to punch the wall about.  

The fact of the matter is that it worked. The communication, the mindset, the plan. It all worked. 

And so, I leave you with this: we cannot become complacent, as a school community and as a society. Vigilance is the only way that the plan will continue to work.

It will take an effort from all. 

  • The NCAA has made November 25 the date when men’s and women’s college basketball will be allowed to begin. As of Friday, no schedule had been released for either season. Teams will not be allowed to play exhibitions or hold scrimmages prior to their first game. 
  • SBU’s COVID-19 return to action plan is, again, currently in its third and final phase. The plan was last updated on Sept. 14. The athletic department has treated athletes as if they had been “sedentary” throughout quarantine, attempting to prevent nagging injuries by getting athletes in the best condition possible. SBU athletic director Tim Kenney, in a statement to The Intrepid, said that the strength and conditioning department plans to ramp up activity in two-week increments, culminating in, hopefully, the playing of games. 
  • Speaking of which- it does not appear that fall sports are going to happen- not with any sort of normalcy anyway. As Oduro told me, teams are more likely to play against teams in the same region, as to avoid the COVID-19 restrictions and risks involved in cross-regional travel. Oduro mentioned the possibility of weekend tournaments involving four or so teams, with all teams – as he emphasized several times – staying in similar environments. 
  • It seems the athletic department is making fan engagement a priority during a time when not only are no sports happening, but college basketball is delayed. “We have stayed in constant communication with our fan base the past several months… to keep Bona Nation updated and entertained,” said Seth Johnson, assistant athletic director for marketing, licensing and fan engagement at SBU. He went on to say that the university is working on plans to keep the fans involved throughout the season, though there likely will be no fans in the stands. 

Sports at SBU are back… kind of

photo: Nic Gelyon/The Intrepid

By Nic Gelyon

ST. BONAVENTURE, NY — It’s unlikely that there will be a fall sports season at St. Bonaventure, at least in the traditional sense.

But that hasn’t deterred student-athletes from working diligently over the last six months, preparing as if there will be.  

University athletics have come a long, long way since March. When St. Bonaventure sent students home last semester due to the ongoing Coronavirus pandemic, the athletic department faced the same cloud of uncertainty that has shrouded society for the better part of the last six months.  

The university did not, however, use this uncertainty as a mask for dormancy, or to wait for all the answers to appear out of nowhere.

Coaches and administrators decided, wisely, to get a head start. They immediately began to gather as much information about COVID-19 as possible. 

 “Before school shut down, me and my assistant coach sat down and started doing more research on COVID,” said Kwame Oduro, head men’s soccer coach at SBU.

Oduro was referring to the time in between when his team returned from their winter trip to England and when school went remote. 

“This is a pandemic, man, this is no joke,” he said. “There’s no way we can keep coming to school. That’s when it hit me.” 

The information gathered was relayed quickly to student-athletes to keep them updated, especially as new layers were added weekly to the university’s COVID-19 return to action plan.

“When [Coach Oduro] would get any news from the A-10 or the NCAA, he would just tell us immediately, like schedule a meeting or a Zoom call,” said Cuneyt Vardar, a  junior midfielder on the men’s soccer team. “It would be pretty immediate.” 

In addition to effective communication, realism became a priority for the St. Bonaventure athletic department. 

The department’s actions would display practicality, not perfection- a mindset that is a necessity in 2020. 

“We could have the best laid plans,” St. Bonaventure athletic director Tim Kenney said in a video statement provided to The Intrepid. “But we can’t be naive to think it’s not going to sneak onto campus.” 

The university’s protocol was split into three phases, according to Kenney. 

Phases one and two included activities such as off-campus quarantines, on-campus quarantines, coronavirus education and the gradual progression of strength and conditioning work. 

It might as well have been known as St. Bonaventure’s Coronavirus training camp. 

But training camp is over now. The third phase is pregame. 

In a perfect world, game time for fall sports would be right around the corner, and phase three would involve the actual playing of games. 

For now, though, it is simply an exercise in keeping the athletes fit, gradually increasing intensity in practices. That, of course, is also dependent on the impact that COVID-19 is having on the university. 

Same-sport athletes have been deliberately placed in dorms with each other for this reason. In theory, if athletes surround each other with other athletes, they will, for the most part, stay within similar environments.

Many student-athletes know they will face strange challenges in this new world. Vardar told me that athletes probably will not be allowed to use locker rooms – at least not all at once – or to share towels. 

This does fall in line with the current coronavirus guidelines in the school’s return to action plan. Oduro told me that if fall sports do get off the ground, it will probably only be among teams similar regions, or at the very least teams that are not in restricted states. 

Kenney wants kids to step up in a time of need and take this opportunity to become great leaders. 

“It’s going to take everybody on this campus – not just athletics – in order for us to make this semester a success,” he said. “We can’t let up, and so our kids will have to keep that leadership role and lead by example.” 

Oduro wants the campus community, and especially his athletes, to take this opportunity to reacquaint themselves with SBU and remember how special an experience it is to be on its campus. 

“For all that college experience to still be around, we need to do our part,” Oduro said. “There are going to be some kids that feel like COVID-19 is not going to affect them because they’re young… we have to be a little selfless.” 

Vardar wants to someday become a physical therapist, and the best soccer player he can be. He is going to take the life-changing hand he has been dealt this year and, with hope, make the best of it. 

“I love the anatomy of the body, and I just love to work with people,” Vardar said. “I want to finish my soccer career here at St. Bonaventure.”

Vardar wants to play professional soccer, either in the United States or possibly in Turkey. He has played in Turkey previously, and his uncle has connections to the country. 

“Because of the Coronavirus, (the NCAA) gave us an extra year of eligibility, so for my graduate school at Daeman College,” Vardar said. “I want to play at year of Division II soccer (at Daeman), and that would finish up my college soccer eligibility.”

Fall sports at SBU will continue to practice using safety protocols and COVID-19 testing to ensure the safety of student-athletes and coaches.

And, spoiler alert: According to the NCAA, men’s and women’s basketball can return on Nov. 25.

Column: A year later, courtside seat controversy is like ancient history

(Photo Credit: GoBonnies.com)

By Chuckie Maggio @chuckiemaggio

The minute I pressed “publish,” the firestorm started.

When I first read the St. Bonaventure athletics press release on July 17, 2015 announcing priority seating for basketball games in the Reilly Center, I skimmed through it. Initially, it read like one of the daily notice board emails many students ignore. I saw there would be courtside seats installed, but didn’t really pay attention to the locations.

That night, after I worked my shift at my summer job where phone use is prohibited, I saw the messages from a couple friends: “Did you see this?!” They included the link, and from the tone of their messages, they were appalled.

Confused, I re-read the release, closely this time. I then understood their outrage. Courtside seats, in front of the student section? Had the administrators lost their minds?

It was go time.

I got home and immediately started writing. I ripped new athletic director Tim Kenney, calling pushing students off the court “a sacrielgious act, like telling Duke’s Cameron Crazies they are no longer allowed to wear face paint, banning ‘Rock Chalk Jayhawk’ from Kansas’s Allen Fieldhouse or prohibiting UMass coaches from using hair gel.”

The final paragraphs implored students and alumni to utilize their voices and work together to retain the unique advantage the Wolfpack had. Alums could purchase the seats and donate them to the student body.

I posted the column the next morning and could tell right away it was going to do numbers. Players like Jaylen Adams, Denzel Gregg and Marcus Posley “retweeted” it almost immediately, as did former Bona forward Demetrius Conger.

Over 100 people joined the players by retweeting or “favoriting” the original tweet with the article, while some others shared it in their own tweet. It was soon on Facebook and the Bona Bandwagon message board, quickly becoming the Intrepid’s most-read piece ever.

People were as angry reading it as I was writing it. They sent it to Kenney via Twitter and email, demanding answers.

Those answers would come in the days, weeks and months to come.

Kenney would explain in an online Q&A on GoBonnies.com that the seats were a way for SBU to act on the Atlantic 10’s emphasis on controlling the court surface and the safety of players, coaches, officials and spectators. The VCU court-storming in February 2015 had sparked some discussion, as players and coaches were not able to quickly exit the arena. In a town hall-style meeting in September, Kenney revealed that Bona had protested the A-10’s original solution, which was to fine schools $5,000 for storming the court. “We already have money problems as it is,” he said. A barrier was suggested and turned down, as he said he didn’t want the students to look like “caged animals.”

A year later, in hindsight, Kenney’s solution was a smart one. All 48 seats were sold at $710 a person, and 14 of the 24 chairs in front of the student section were allocated to the students.

Not only did the seats bring in cash, with a fair compromise to the Wolfpack, they also proved to be a non-issue during the season. No one threw the chairs onto the court like Bobby Knight, as I had jokingly suggested in my column. There weren’t any major incidents between the students and the seat holders; the focus was on the hoops, not the sidelines.

I wrote a few follow-up columns after the first one as more information started to come in, and learned a lot along the way.

I don’t regret writing the original, as the decision had come with little to no explanation and the entire fanbase was shellshocked. If I had stopped there despite more information coming out, however, I would have resigned myself to being a hack columnist with very little accountability. Instead, the follow-ups were more fair and open-minded, applauding the athletic department for having better communication and telling students and alumni to give the new administration time.

After meeting Kenney upon returning to school last fall, I quickly realized he was the right man for the job. He greeted me with a warm handshake and joked with me about the column, making it clear he held no grudges. We watched some SBU soccer games together (including an overtime thriller in the freezing rain) and talked about his vision for Bonnies athletics. Now, I go to him first with questions about a decision he has made or is in the process of making. Building that relationship was important for a student writer like me.

Today, 366 days after my column on the biggest offseason controversy in my time at Bonaventure (leap year), the uproar seems like ancient history. A video board is under construction in the RC, a court redesign is in the works and Adidas is now the official outfitter of all 16 D-I teams.

What a difference a year makes.

Men’s basketball: Bonaventure working on restructured contract for Schmidt

(Photo Credit: GoBonnies.com)

By Chuckie Maggio @chuckiemaggio

St. Bonaventure Director of Athletics Tim Kenney told The Intrepid Friday that he has been talking with men’s basketball coach Mark Schmidt about a restructured contract for over a month.

Schmidt’s name has been floated around as a possible candidate to fill the Pittsburgh coaching vacancy, while he reportedly interviewed for the Central Florida position before Johnny Dawkins was hired. Rumors that Mick Cronin could be hired at UNLV have led to speculation about the Cincinnati job opening as well.

Kenney and his staff are committed to making sure Schmidt, who just completed his ninth season as SBU head coach, is in Olean for years to come.

“At this time of the year, the coaching carousel causes consternation among many programs with great coaches. St. Bonaventure is no different,” Kenney said. “Mark and I have been talking for over a month on restructuring his contract to ensure that he and his family are happy and he does not need to move on to another program that may lure him with more money.”

Continue reading “Men’s basketball: Bonaventure working on restructured contract for Schmidt”

Possibility of alcohol sales at Reilly Center still on back burner

By Chuckie Maggio @chuckiemaggio

The sale of beer in college stadiums and arenas has been a topic of conversation across the NCAA landscape for decades now. An article in The New York Times yesterday noted that just nine teams in the so-called “Big Five” conferences sell beer to the general public: West Virginia, Texas, Maryland, Minnesota, Colorado, Wake Forest, Miami, Syracuse and Louisville. West Virginia athletic director Shane Lyons said last month that approximately $500,000 a year comes back to the university off of beer sales alone.

Continue reading “Possibility of alcohol sales at Reilly Center still on back burner”

Kenney connects with students in town hall meeting

By Chuckie Maggio @chuckiemaggio

After months of online vitriol from students, alumni and campus newspaper writers over the installation of courtside seats in front of the Reilly Center student section, St. Bonaventure Director of Athletics Tim Kenney finally got his chance to meet with students in person on Tuesday night.

Kenney led a town hall-style meeting in the student section of the arena that was attended by about 30 students. After rewarding the crowd with some Domino’s pizza as promised, he got down to business and discussed the most hotly-contested topic of his five-month tenure.

When Kenney attended the Atlantic 10’s June meetings with fellow athletic directors, conference leaders made it clear that controlling the court surface would be a point of emphasis going forward. Storming the court, which Bona’s student section did three times the past two seasons, was a main point of discussion.

Kenney, who was at UMass before coming to Bonaventure in April, made it clear that the Minutemen had no problem with the court storming after Bona’s upset in January 2014. “It was basically like ‘alright, you kicked our butts, you deserve to do it’,” Kenney said.

However, the court storming against VCU in February contributed to the start of the conversation, according to Kenney. The Rams were jostled around as they attempted to leave the court, which is precisely what the Atlantic 10 is trying to avoid in the future.

Kenney protested against the A-10’s original solution, which was going to be a $5,000 fine to schools for storming the court. “We already have money problems as it is,” he said.

The conference responded that if schools had issues with a possible fine, the athletic departments would have to come up with a solution to ensure the safety of all players, coaches and spectators.

Bona got to work, brainstorming ideas and thinking of what was best for everyone involved. A barrier was suggested, which Kenney wasn’t a fan of. “I didn’t want you guys (the students) to look like caged animals,” he explained.

Instead, SBU went with the courtside seats idea. Lost in the outrage the move created was how efficient Kenney and his team were at selling those seats- all 48 were accounted for in just a few weeks’ time.

The rapid sale of the seats allowed Bonaventure to talk with the people who purchased them. “They know all about the Wolfpack and what they’re getting into,” Kenney said.

Donors made it clear that they wanted the Reilly Center’s home court advantage to continue to be one of the best in the country. That’s where the students come in; at least 14 of the 24 chairs being placed in front of the student section will be donated to the students.

The athletic department is not sure how those student seats will be allocated yet, so they sought ideas at the town hall meeting. The most notable suggestion was a raffle- students would put in a dollar or two for a chance to sit courtside. It was an ironic 180-degree turn in the whole ordeal and a sign of true compromise- now, the student body was not only starting to come around on the seats, its members were coming up with ideas to raise money for the school.

The seats weren’t the only area in which Kenney sought input from the students; he also wanted to know how to improve the game experience. A few of those present remarked that they liked t-shirts, so a whiteout like the one in the 2012-13 season was brought up. Kenney took it a step further by saying that the department was thinking about giving out a new shirt for every game. If you’re scoring at home, that would be nine different Wolfpack shirts this season.

These ideas are all centered around the students, with the main goal being to keep the students who are at every game and luring in the students who don’t regularly attend.

“I’m about the students first because you guys are the breath of life to the games,” Kenney said. “The students are the heartbeat of college basketball, and the players and coaches agree.”

Just how successful was the meeting? After Kenney asked if his explanation helped students understand the reasons behind the changes and what the department was trying to accomplish, one student mumbled under her breath, “Yeah, I don’t hate you anymore.”

Atlantic 10 comments on Bona seating change

By Chuckie Maggio @chuckiemaggio

The Atlantic 10 has weighed in on the new courtside seats St. Bonaventure is putting in the Reilly Center.

The controversy over putting seats in front of the Bona student section died down after athletic director Tim Kenney explained the move’s safety implications, but there was still some confusion over the conference’s silence in the matter.

When reached for comment this week, A-10 Assistant Commissioner Drew Dickerson said the decision was St. Bonaventure’s and was not forced by the conference.

“The conference discusses student-athlete, staff and fan safety/sportsmanship annually at every business meeting; this includes in-arena and on-campus field facilities,” Dickerson said. “Each member institution decides how best to manage their own facilities with respect to seating, safety and security.

“SBU’s new in-arena seating plan should not be confused with the conference’s commitment to safety (and) sportsmanship as this not a new topic, and it will continue to be an important discussion for the conference.”

Dickerson’s comments make it clear that there was no order that SBU add these seats. Rather, Bona felt this was the best way to manage the Reilly Center with respect to “seating, safety and security.” For Kenney and his staff, it was a peaceful resolution to avoid discipline down the road, as the conference seems to have been patient with the “Reilly Rowdies” for quite some time.

Column: Put seat controversy in rear-view, give Kenney time

By Chuckie Maggio @chuckiemaggio

Time to call off the dogs, Bona Nation. The courtside seats are here to stay.

Now that new athletic director Tim Kenney has explained that the Atlantic 10 Conference made it a point of emphasis for schools to control the court surface during games, it’s clear he’s not some naive newcomer who came in and unconsciously ripped away the Reilly Center home court advantage with his bare hands. Rather, the A-10 forced his hand and he chose to monetize a tough situation for the school’s benefit.

The process would have been much smoother if the Bona community was aware of what was going on before the change was invoked, but it now appears that student and alumni angst was misdirected. If you’re still looking to point fingers in this whole ordeal, you should point them at the conference, not Kenney.

It’s now time to put the whole saga behind us and move forward. In today’s rapidly changing college athletics landscape, the athletic department cannot allow themselves to belabor this frivolous issue. After all, continuing to compete in a conference that is beginning to produce some light-heavyweights (Dayton, Davidson, VCU) should be the paramount focus.

Lost in the drama of the past few weeks has been that Tim Kenney is still the right man for this job. He has a proven track record as a savvy fundraiser, evidenced by his successful tenure at UMass, where he secured the first $10 million gift in the history of the university and acted as lead planner for the new basketball practice facility. During his tenure, UMass’s athletic department revenue was at an all-time high.

Increasing revenue is obviously a must at Bonaventure, where enrollment and endowment have been in the daily lexicon for all the wrong reasons. The entire university is slogging through tough financial times, but boosting the athletic department is one way to get donors to pony up more cash.

Rome wasn’t built in a day, however, and an athletic director’s tenure sure isn’t either. Kenney will need time to earn the support of donors, sponsors and students, and he definitely deserves more time than we’re giving him; you cannot judge his overall performance after three months or one decision. An AD needs a minimum two-year window before you can fully judge his impact. Sometimes it takes even longer.

In of Steve Watson’s first year as SBU’s Director of Athletics, the men’s basketball team was still reeling from the 2003 scandal. The team went 8-22 in 2007-08, winning just two A-10 games and extending the program’s streak of single-digit win seasons to five. Instead of writing off Watson and new coach Mark Schmidt, the Bona faithful trusted the process and were repaid with a 2012 Atlantic 10 championship.

Kenney has not been tasked with hiring a new head coach or reviving a laughingstock of a basketball program; the 2015-16 Bonnies have a stockpile of new and returning talent and are a darkhorse pick in the conference. He faces a unique, off-court set of challenges, challenges he already has plans to overcome.

Yes, the courtside seats raised a firestorm of controversy, but they also showed that the man in charge knows how to bring in the bucks. At the time of Kenney’s question-and-answer session last Thursday, the school had received 34 commitments to buy the seats, which are priced at $710 each, with $500 going to the Bona Athletic Fund. Not only has the athletic administration found a money-making way to circumvent potential punishment from the Atlantic 10, it has shown it can close the deal as well.

Kenney is a deft businessman, and a smart one at that. Fighting the A-10 on its point on emphasis would have been a foolish move for a rookie AD to make, especially since the student section is looking at a marginal one-or-two-foot backup. If he had come in swinging (figuratively) with the A-10 brass, Bona would have been negatively impacted as a result. It’s not like SBU is one of the bigwigs of the conference and can start much of a fuss without consequence; remember, media members like ESPN’s Dick Vitale thought the Bonnies should have been kicked out of the league when the scandal hit.

The initial outrage from the seats story has been replaced by a sense of understanding, which makes sense at a Franciscan university. Students (like yours truly) and alumni need to move forward and give Kenney time to work the kinds of wonders he worked at UMass.

Backing up a few feet will be a worthy sacrifice if the Bonnies can take some great leaps forward.