Stony Brook University Director of Athletics, Shawn Heilbron, held a virtual town hall through Facebook Live on Thursday, April 9 to address the campus community about the current state of Stony Brook Athletics in the midst of the coronavirus (COVID-19) crisis. After making an opening statement, Heilbron fielded questions from reporters, fans and parents, with an underlying theme of optimism among the uncertainty that the pandemic has caused.
“At some point in the very near future, we will be able to come back together again and do what we love doing: cheering on the Seawolves and our student-athletes,” Heilbron said in his opening statement. “I want to thank you for your continued support. I want to thank the amazing campus leadership led by Interim President Michael Bernstein through this. It’s been an interesting time as the campus has converted to all online instruction.”
In his opening statement, Heilbron also confirmed that the Indoor Training Facility is in its final stages of construction and almost completed, even if it is currently not being used as intended. The suites in Island Federal Arena are currently being used as offices for the contractor putting up the five temporary field hospitals across the Stony Brook University campus.
Heilbron emphasized the number of unknowns currently at stake. “I’m not a doctor. I’m not a scientist,” he said. “I can’t make any predictions … We’re certainly planning for a fall season. That’s the hope and the goal, but all that will be dictated by people other than me. I have no control over that.”
Stony Brook is currently planning for a fall 2020 season but is ready to adapt to changing scenarios. With regards to whether or not fans will be allowed in the stands for fall games, Heilbron stated that it is too early to make a decision and reminded listeners that he had planned on hosting the America East Women’s Basketball Championship at Island Federal Arena without fans before the game was ultimately canceled.
“We talked about our ticket plans and we certainly will come up with a strategy,” Heilbron said regarding season ticket packages for football. “Right now, we want to be mindful that a lot of people are out of work. A lot of people are in some difficult financial straits, and we also just want to make sure that we will, in fact, have games again.”
Newly-appointed president, Maurie McInnis, looks to be a key figure in raising Stony Brook’s athletic prominence, according to Heilbron. “With the new president, how do we position ourselves for great things in the future? Just being content is not the way we operate here. That’s the way our athletes are too. I’m excited with all our supporters to figure out what it looks like and how we take that next step. We’re going to get there.”
The current financial status of Stony Brook Athletics was a major talking point throughout the town hall. The cancellation of the 2020 NCAA Tournament in men’s and women’s basketball led to a reduction in revenue distributed to each individual Division I conference, with the conferences themselves responsible for distributing money to its member schools. A potential cancellation of the 2020 college football season could lead to more revenue loss due to attendance and TV contracts.
“We don’t know what the impact will be on a campus level,” Heilbron said. “We are working very diligently. We are always fiscally responsible … I really believe this is going to impact different schools in different ways, and for us, this is, how can we be more efficient as a business operation?”
The NCAA recently voted to grant all spring athletes an extra year of eligibility as their 2020 season was cut short in its infancy. Bringing back every Stony Brook spring athlete on an additional year of scholarship would have cost close to $700,000, Heilbron revealed. However, not every student-athlete has chosen to take advantage of their extra year, with some opting to graduate with a degree and move on with their careers. “That number has been drastically reduced already by athletes who have told us that they’re not coming back,” he said.
Despite the costs, Heilbron believes that giving spring athletes an extra season is the right thing to do. “We’re going to be active in asking for support as we get through the summer, but we have some thoughts as to how we can manage that,” he said. “For me, we’ve been very fiscally responsible. We budget extremely conservatively, so we had significant savings by the cancellation of the spring season.”
Other topics of concern included Stony Brook’s relationship with SNY, as the Mets’ television network aired numerous football and basketball games throughout the 2019-20 season. That partnership will likely continue next season.
“That’s something that we felt was very important from the messaging and branding standpoint,” Heilbron said. “As a department, the three ‘R’s are recruiting, revenue and recognition. SNY, from a recognition standpoint, was key … Prior to all this happening, we were literally ready to have an in-person meeting with them. We will have those conversations. I would expect some form of relationship with them again moving into the year.”
Heilbron also announced that a banner will be raised commemorating the women’s basketball team’s first America East championship, which was given to the Seawolves after the cancelation of the title game. He expressed support for next year’s men’s basketball team with the addition of the newly-eligible Frankie Policelli and stressed the importance of success in football. “Our expectations should only continue to rise,” he said. “We’ve got to win in all our sports.”
Stony Brook’s athletic director concluded the town hall with a note of appreciation to the community.
“Let’s stick together. I appreciate the support of so many people out there that have given to either Seawolves United, or to sports funds, or have bought season tickets. We’re going to need you just like we’re going to need each other. I’m grateful for all of you. I wish you continued health and safety, and just like I say this to athletes: stay strong, stay positive. We’ll get on the other side of this soon enough.”