Barry Alvarez Discusses Big Ten Postponement, His 'Hollow Feeling'

Jake Kocorowski

Just a couple hours after the official word came down from the Big Ten Conference and its "postponement" of its fall sports competitions, Wisconsin athletic director Barry Alvarez spoke with reporters via Zoom to discuss the decision and more.

Here are most of the questions and subsequent answers from the head of the athletic department:

Discussing the possibility of playing a full football season in the spring

"I go back to Paul as a resource. I don't know anybody else that played spring football in a season or coached it. Paul coached it as a young coach. Coached one of those (World League) teams for a full season, and a number of those guys apparently went on and played in the NFL another full season.

"I don't know what the spring season was, but the NFL season naturally is longer. He said two full seasons back-to-back is too much. So taking that into consideration, my natural thinking is six, eight games, something like that if you do something in the spring."

Would players would be interested in if it would cost them a year of eligibility?

"I haven't talked to anyone yet. That's just Paul and I visiting about it and him sharing that with me. We approached it very little in our AD meetings and really haven't gotten serious about it at all. I've had one AD from another league call and just talk about it a little bit, but we just canceled today the fall season so we haven't gotten into that yet."

If Alvarez knows anything about eligibility concerns and how players might discern whether it's right to stay for a spring season

"I know my meeting tomorrow is a lot about eligibility. We've had some discussion about it but not really an in-depth study. But we'll start that in earnest tomorrow talking eligibility and that type of thing. Again, spring season really hasn't even been discussed, so how many games it would be to count towards eligibility, and I know where you're getting at. If you only play a short season, is it worth a year of eligibility? All those things are good questions and things that are going to have to be answered."

If playing two seasons within a year is the biggest deterrent to playing a spring season

"Again, it wouldn't be two full seasons. I don't know the answer to that. I really haven't researched it. I know one guy that has experienced it, and that's who I'll lean on to get some advice over it, but I know it's something that's going to have to be discussed. We'll talk to other people that have coached in it and played in it and come up with some answers. Eligibility again has to be something that is discussed and players have to understand."

On revenue loss and how that equates to cuts and decisions he will have to make, and how those are mitigated if there is a spring season

"We'll have to go through some more cuts. We've set up several budgets as we went into this year. Some playing football, some with a partial stadium, some with no fans in the stadium, and some with no football. We'll have to answer that.

"We do have a reserve that'll take us so far, but we're going to have to have some layoffs. There'll be some of our units that won't be working. Those are things that we have a plan for. Those are very difficult decisions to make. 

"We've had furloughs. We've tried to be as fair and take care of our people as best we could. But when you shut down and you're not playing sports--you lose the TV revenue, the gate, etc.--you got to make up for it somehow. So we've got to plan for that and we'll move forward and do the best we can. And every athletic department in the country is gonna go through the same thing. You're gonna be battling. It's gonna be an uphill battle, and those are things that we're going to have to address and figure out. It'll be difficult."

How difficult is today for Alvarez and his reaction to the decision

"This has really been a hard stretch to me, Dennis (Krause). I gotta tell you I go to bed every night and my body just aches because I'm dealing with this from (the) first thing in the morning. I go on a conference call, and I'm on a number of conference calls all day and we're trying to figure out what we can do. What are some of the answers, getting reports from medical experts, and trying to figure out how we're going to manage--whether it be budget or teams or different situations--as they're presented to us. It hasn't been fun.

"I just all along, I know how much our student athletes want to play and enjoy playing. I watched them practice the last couple weeks, and just watching them on the field and watching the coaches and how they interact and how they enjoy it, I just don't feel good about it. I just don't feel good about the whole thing. I just feel a hollow feeling. This has been very, very difficult for me, and this is gonna be probably the toughest fall that I've ever gone through."

On effects on the budget -- is eliminating sports a realistic possibility?

"I'll be honest with you, that's one thing we have not discussed. I will try to get through this without eliminating sports. I know there are going to be some schools that are going to have to, but as of right now, to be honest with you, that has not been in our discussions.

"And I hope it stays that way."

On how hard it was to weigh the players' safety with them wanting to play

"You know what? I know how much they wanted to play. I was right there with them. I wanted them to play, too. You got to look at the safety.

"That was our No. 1 priority to start with. We leaned on our medical professionals. We had a task medical task force, and we kept going back to them. We lean on our local doctors (at) University Hospital. We worked in conjunction with a group here that's working on a saliva test that gives us quick results. Our football team has even been involved in their testing, taking their tests. We take that in conjunction with a nose swab (PCR test), and just trying to help them out. 

"We thought that potentially could be an answer for us. If we had a saliva test that we could get back within an hour -- heck, we could have our guys do their test, go in and have breakfast, they'd have an answer before they went to practice -- and we could guarantee a clean practice field. We were really excited about that, but we just couldn't move it fast enough. So those are things that we're hoping could be rectified and we can have available come spring.

"I know how much they wanted to play, and the coaches, and our fans and everyone else, but believe me, there is no one that wanted to play more than me. So I understand it, I understand their feeling."

On what things are Alvarez prepared to cut

"The one thing that we'll try not to do and won't do is take away from student services. We have some of our units on campus (that) won't be working, because we won't have games. Some areas won't be used, and we're going to have some layoffs. That's just a fact of life. Again, they're tough decisions. We've tried to be fair all along as we've moved and made decisions on furloughs, etc., but we're gonna have to make some of those tough decisions and have some layoffs."

Expecting to ask about extending pay cuts past October?

"We haven't discussed that yet. We have a little time to make that decision. We went after the the highest-salaried coaches in in the department initially. We may go deeper in that, but we have some plans and those are things that we'll sit down as administration and make those final decisions."

On what volleyball could look like in spring, and if athletes in these affected fall sports are able to practice?

"Yeah, they've got 20 hours a week available to the coaches. I think that's important. That was one thing that I supported as we talked within the league with other administrators. I thought it was important that our coaches stay in contact with our student athletes, that they have some type of workouts with them -- whether it'd be skill workouts, weight workouts, whatever they may be -- just for the mental health of our student athletes that we can keep them active and that they have constant contact with their coaches. That's for all fall sports."

On if it is disappointing "that there's not a united front" in college football

"Well, we have no ties with those other leagues. We make decisions unilaterally. I know those commissioners have, I don't know if it's bi-weekly meetings, (but) they stay in contact with one another so I think they know what each other is doing."

"We've made a decision through our medical experts, and everybody's making decisions on their own, some are waiting a little bit longer. I respect all of their decisions, and we'll see what happens."

How much did cost in testing play into these decisions?

"Cost never came up. We were going to handle that. That was never an issue."

Ed. note: One of the questions from the availability was omitted due to some audio discrepancies. Also, Alvarez said Chryst coached in the USFL, but it was actually the World League. replaced within the article with a parentheses to note the correct league, as well as updated the correct name of the hospital.

Also, all questions/topics from press availability are edited. All are not purely verbatim from reporters. Also updated on Aug. 17 to link official statement from Big Ten Conference.