COLLEGE STATION – Each week in College Station Texas A&M Athletics Director Ross Bjork meets with the media to discuss all things Aggies . On his ZOOM call Bjork focused primarily on planning for the upcoming football season as things stand now. What it will look like on Saturday’s at Kyle Field and what fans may experience on gamedays this fall.
Q: Can you discuss what President John Sharp said about the plan and how the season could unfold and playing in front of fans?
Bjork: “ Yeah, you know that that's been our thought process all along, you know, we know that there's a lot of steps that we have to take to get to that point and we're following all the guidance of our leadership here on campus, the health officials, you know, working with the SEC. You know, but I really appreciate you know his confidence in in our planning and preparation. The data really is sound, you know for Texas and gives us, you know, good. You know planning to go off of. So, I really appreciate his confidence you know Mike young president young and his leadership and confidence as well so I really appreciated. You know him, making that declaration. And now, you know, we know that I've told you guys you know once may 1 hit. I thought that was a pivotal date to see where we go from here and so I think the timing was great, and I really do appreciate his confidence and how everything is unfolding.”
Q: Ross you've talked about that July 1 being a target date of athletes coming back in order to have a on time season.
Bjork: “Now that it's, may I mean, is there any updates of what that outlook looks like, you know, there, there really isn't it right now. you know what's, what's that I may, may 5, you know we're looming upon you know the May 31 date within the SEC in terms of return to activity right so what happens on June 1. So we don't have that answer yet. We have the NCAA put out some principles and some guidelines last week that talked about and really matched. A lot of the phasing that the White House put out a few weeks ago. So you have, you know, those parameters that you have to work with and really blend those in with you know your local community. we have the the governor, right in Texas opened up. You know the state on, on May 1 and in that phased approach so there's a lot of layers to this so we don't have we don't have the full clarity. But we're working constantly on how do we operationalize. What does the environment look like, and then obviously the biggest question is when and we just don't have an exact time frame on when that decision will be made.”
Q: Ross yesterday Arkansas AD Hunter Yuracek made a comment that he was planning for the season to basically start on time. Your thoughts on that?
Bjork: “I was kind of curious to see if that was just an Arkansas perspective or if there's been some discussion amongst sec athletic directors, about, you know, the potential event actually happening. Yeah we we've thrown out you know look, we're all throwing out different you know scenarios and planning, different timelines, but nothing has been decided. And so I that was Hunter, you know, delivering that to his board of trustees at a very very high level, you know, talking about that and that and that really that matches kind of that six week window that a lot of us have talked about is sort of an ideal timeline in terms of preparing you know the athletes so that sort of matched up that, but no one, you know we haven't been given, you know, any signals that say we have to cancel anything, but we also haven't been given. You know the Go ahead, to start you know operationalize these things so that's what that was yesterday but I also saw this morning that Missouri is doing a soft opening of their athletic department, right not student athletes but athletic staff. So in some ways we're all thinking about the same thing but the timings may be impacted by our local communities and you know really how far along states are, and how far along you know can be communities are.”
Q: Have you gotten on the planning level with regard to testing?
Bjork: “I think everybody agrees that there's going to have to be extensive testing before you can open up even players and coaches. We are working, myself, I'm working directly with our Vice President for Health Sciences, Greg Hartman on the testing procedures and what that will look like here for you know not only you know our student athletes but potentially our athletic staff and you know the university's looking at that for you know how our students impacted so you know we're trying to stay on the, on the front lines of the testing, you know conversation, given that we do have a little bit of time before we would need anything. You know, we can get some clarity in the in the coming weeks and months or so, but we're staying on the front lines of it. You know the other thing about testing is, you know, when is it required right is it just required based on you know symptoms is it required, just to start, we don't have all those answers yet, but we're staying on the front lines of that one and me personally because I want to make sure that we we do the right things and Ross I know you mentioned a little bit earlier out. Say Institute of Sport Science guidelines that were put out, it seems to be about roughly a little 40 DAY PLUS process to re socialize sport How much does that fall into kind of the plans that the island so you're already starting to put together and how closely do those things mesh well you can all do the math, you know, just like I did right when those came out and say okay if you want to start on this date. And let's say that it's phase three of those guidelines, you know you just back that up right and basically it takes you, you know 42 days based on those guidelines you know to get to phase three, you know, so we've all we've all done the math on that and like I said earlier, you know, those are guidelines, it will be a blend with what is our university, you know guidance look like what is our local health community guidance look like, what's our SEC.
Q: Can you address the idea of fan experience and what that could look like?
Bjork: “We really can't reduce the capacity of our stadium without major, you know infrastructure changes so we're not we're not looking at reducing sizes of stadiums and things like that that's not in play, but how do we operationalize it. How do we make people feel comfortable? What does social distancing look like you know come the fall, what are all the best practices and protocols that are out there. All those things are on the table and we're constantly going through and again these things are all fluid. The good thing is we do have time to make those decisions. So we've looked at everything, you know, social distancing parameters. You know what I really want to look at is what can we do before someone walks in the stadium is there any sort of survey that we can do sort of self selecting surveys of our fans. So all those things are being looked at but to me it's too early to say, this is how it's going to operate in terms of what the Dolphins did I think we have a lot more time to plan for those things.
Q: Ross you mentioned the soft opening that Missouri had Arkansas some mentioned yesterday that they were, I think, potentially looking at opening their weight room and training room for voluntary use for student athletes that were in the area is that anything that you guys, consider is that is that beyond a conference wide thing or was that just a specific thing for them.”
Bjork: “Well, it'll, you know, really I think the best way to frame that is what happens between now and may 31, because right now we're prohibited from any activity voluntary or not right in our facilities. And so, if a local community allows for fitness centers, you know, commercial, you know Jim's to open up. How would we react, that's a question that we all have on the table. We don't know what governor Abbott will do in the state of Texas. But if something happens between now and May 31, I think we would want our student athletes in our facilities versus being out, you know, in the community we feel like we could, we could safeguard them here. But we don't have that answer yet we got to see, I think really what the governor decides here for us. We have to decide as an SEC what happens on June 1. So then we could make you know those type of decisions but it's on it's on my mind in terms of if, if, local gymnasiums start to open up fitness centers. We know our athletes are going to go there. I'd rather have them come here. If it's in a voluntary setting, because I think we can safeguard them the most. But it's a great point and it's starting to be more relevant topic now as we're approaching the end of May, Roswell collegiate baseball tournament that today announced for the possibility and Brian in June, would you feel comfortable with your athletes.
Q: Ross speaking of the budget, how important is it for the other sports to have a football season that starts on time and, you know, just to have a complete football season in order to everything else to play out as normal?
Bjork: “You know, football, you know is the engine, the economic engine here at Texas A&M for our athletic program and so all of our sports, really are impacted by by the football program you know we have 100. You know 2000 seats and you know we sold 85,000 season tickets last year and we just in tickets and donations, last year that number was $85 million. You know that’s that’s more than half of our budget or operating budget so it’s a big impact. And we recognize that our other coaches and student athletes recognize that.”