There is lots of discourse in college athletics right now - most of course about dollars and sense. More of a focus on dollars and less on sense. What might make the most sense is that, as soon as we know when football and men's and women's basketball players will return to campus, that we detail how will athletic departments help insure their behavioral and mental health foundation is solid enough for them to return to the rigors or college athletics. You see I have heard a lot about deficits, predictive models, furloughs, and how much it will cost to cover spring athletes who want another year of eligibility. Yet, when it comes to behavioral health, AD’s speak on the importance of their athletes mental health, but do not have any details on plans to help foster their wellness.
I am the first to admit it's hard for us to imagine the new normal – shit I’m just trying to make sure happy hour doesn’t start too early each day. From a college athletics mental health standpoint, each day I try to spend some time forecasting how things will change, after months of social distancing, because it is something that we have to do. It’s just as important as the budgets, maintaining donor interest, and trying to figure out when the football season will start.
The majority of college athletes are going to excel or maintain during this pandemic. However, others will experience or fall prey to financial challenges, some will have experienced unchecked micro assaults by professors in Zoom classes and random followers, some will have failed classes, others may suffered “freak” injuries while away from school, others will have lost friends and/or family due to COVID-19, natural causes, or due to some other health disparity. We cannot just expect them to pick up a ball and go make up the financial deficit COVID-19 had caused for almost every athletic department.
Maybe instead of figuring out when college football practices or seasons will start the NCAA and member institutions need to think through what a behavioral/mental health training camp might look like for college athletes when they return to school. When the football and basketball players return, the majority of which will be athletes of color, maybe AD’s should mandate that coaches spend two or three days taking them through a mental health training camp that includes wellness testing, spaces for them to share their narrative, opportunities to meet with behavioral health specialists, forums to connect them with resources for their family members. If this happens… would college athletes be better prepared to return to play and school? You know it will…
The reality is that the same football and basketball players that will be largely responsible for making up the growing financial deficits cause by COVID-19 are the sons and daughters, nieces and nephews of people of color who are being disproportionately affected by the Coronavirus.
AD’s might want to put down those calculators and start meeting with their behavioral health folks and detailing mental health training camps – or their product, and their athletes will suffer the consequences.