Louisiana-Monroe athletic director Scott McDonald felt helpless trying to cope with the entirety of an unprecedented moment.
It was March 12, 2020. McDonald was on a conference call with Sun Belt commissioner Keith Gill and the league’s other DAs. The NCAA had just canceled “March Madness”.
“The shock of it was almost numbing,” McDonald said. “We went from this morning to thinking that we were going to reschedule these events to have nothing. Then you start to think about football and there were days before the season where I didn’t think we would play a single game. “
McDonald, 61, has been awake many nights grappling with uncertainty. Louisiana-Monroe, known colloquially as the ULM, has the smallest operating budget of any FBS school. Would he be able to test coaches and athletes? Especially without the $ 3.2 million in revenue from non-conference football games in Arkansas and Georgia, which was canceled after the SEC moved to a conference-only schedule.
The town of Monroe was hit by a tornado and hurricane during the pandemic. About 74 football players lived in a hotel during the two storms, waiting for October to move into new housing on campus. ULM football has been forced to suspend football three times in a historically bad season, which ended in a 0-10.
“It’s aged me I don’t know how many years,” McDonald said. “I don’t want to ever go through this again if I can help it.”
By also offering COVID-19 tests to regular students and faculty, McDonald’s was able to offset the costs through the university. St. Francis Medical Center in Monroe worked with ULM to keep prices low. The Edward Via College of Osteopathic Medicine, located on campus, provided an EKG machine so that athletes who contracted the virus could undergo a full assessment before resuming their activities.
A year later, ULM’s football fortunes are improving under the leadership of new football coach Terry Bowden. The team has one of the highest vaccination rates in the Sun Belt. McDonald’s is finalizing deals to reschedule games against Georgia and Arkansas, which will allow the sports department to recoup those financial guarantees.
One and 100: Click above to read more stories about the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the South.
This article originally appeared on Lafayette Daily Advertiser: Scott McDonald, University of Louisiana-Monroe athletic director