Utah Valley athletic director Jared Sumsion has had to become accustomed to fluidity and uncertainty becoming constant companions in the past four months.
That’s just life in collegiate athletics during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We will be in a meeting and 10 minutes later we will get breaking news updates on a topic that we’ve been talking about for an hour — and all of a sudden everything you talked about is irrelevant,” Sumsion said in an interview Thursday. “You walk into the office and you have no idea what is going to hit you during that day.”
He has the unenviable task of trying to keep the UVU coaches and athletes up-to-date when he himself is facing so many unknowns.
“During the first couple of weeks (of the pandemic shutdown in March), I was sending emails daily about what I knew and what was happening,” Sumsion said. “When everything got canceled, that communication became about what was the reality on that day. I could tell everyone what was happening then but we knew it could all change the next day. We are still operating that way. It’s still a day-by-day type of scenario.”
He doesn’t think he will ever forget sitting in the Orleans Arena on March 11. The Wolverine men’s basketball team was there watching the UVU women compete in the WAC tournament when his phone started buzzing.
“We heard about Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert testing positive for COVID-19 and everything that happened,” Sumsion said. “I remember looking at our players and thinking that they may not get to play tomorrow. Everything changed from that day.”
As Sumsion worked through the turmoil of the March shutdown and the fallout over the following months, he always tried to stay optimistic.
“We had hope all the way through this that we would get to August and get back to what we would think of as being normal,” Sumsion said. “But to have things change in our state in the past couple of weeks, it became a reality that we might need to take a step back and evaluate even more about how we approach things.”
He said the athletic department has tried to take the circumstances of every single student-athlete into consideration, which is a daunting task for a Division I university with more than 370 athletes.
“We’re trying to make the best decision possible, knowing that higher education decisions will dictate a lot,” Sumsion said. “Being an athletic director, you are worried first and foremost about the health and well-being of your student athletes. We have to make the best decisions possible for everyone you have a stewardship for.”
It’s also staggering to consider the plethora of moving parts that impact what might happen in collegiate athletics. The WAC has institutions from Chicago to California and Seattle to Texas, all of which are dealing with their own unique local circumstances — and that’s not even taking into consideration out-of-conference competition.
“Our contracts are done for every fall sport and they’ve been done for months,” Sumsion said. “We had a team that backed out of a contract at the end of March and at first I was thinking we would talk to the lawyers and see where we would go from there. A couple of weeks later, however, I heard about the situation they were in in their area, so I called their athletic director back and said I understood where they were at. We would just figure it out. Everyone in our conference and across the country are going through the exact same thing, but their circumstances differ. There are a lot of dominoes that are going to fall and they will impact us.”
He believes that the next couple of weeks will be when most of the decisions are made regarding fall sports, which could have long-term implications for other sports as well.
“Having the pro sports doing what they are doing now will be a test drive in some ways, but the NCAA doesn’t have those type of resources,” Sumsion said. “We can’t put us all in a bubble. We’ll hopefully know by the end of the July. Football will really dictate a lot of what happens. All of our student-athletes want to play but we all want to do it as safely as possible. Honestly we just are sure of what that looks like today.”
Sumsion was thrilled to see so many Wolverine teams do well last year and that makes the prospect of cancellations or postponements even more heartbreaking.
In the end, however, he views the current circumstances as just another obstacle to be overcome for the UVU athletic department.
“To look at all the successes we had last year and then know we may not be able to compete the way we did last year, it’s been a challenging time,” Sumsion said. “But it’s something we will overcome just like we have in the past with other things that have hit us.”