Powered by Nevco, A New Gameday from CollegeAD focuses on how athletic departments are working towards, planning for, and hosting events during COVID-19.
Elliott Charles has been Chicago University’s Director of Intercollegiate Athletics since December of 2019. He joined Game Day to talk about the challenges and opportunities of the past year, understanding commitment and staying the course.
He started the conversation by saying that everyone at Chicago University is doing well and waiting on the 2021 season. Elliott Charles explained that his crew has been working tirelessly to ensure a safe return to gameplay and has maintained a good experience for the student-athletes.
Charles says that during his first year at the helm for Chicago University, communication has taken center stage, especially after the events of March of 2020.
“Once we received notice through our leadership that public health officials, epidemiologists, scientists, were getting involved and analyzing what was going on, back in March. We had to make some quick decisions. We had to say to our coaches and student-athletes, ‘we have your best interest at heart and we’re going to need to make some really tough decisions that you’ve probably never seen or heard of before.’ People stepped up big time.”
Charles says after the cancelations in March his team had to make the space and time to communicate frequently.
“We’re in Chicago, so communicating about a snowstorm Lake effect, weather is complicated on its own. Canceling a game was a challenge. We had to rethink how we went about communicating with the fan base. It just required us to be intentional. It required a standard approach. I had to hire the right people that I knew could communicate with the fans, the student-athletes, the coaches, the donors, the constituents, everybody.”
“It’s a little bit about sacrifice. I’ve had to say to my kids, ‘I’m sorry, I’m going to have to put your bed a little early tonight. And I’m going to go downstairs and keep on talking to our former student-athletes, our fans, my boss.’ It’s just been a commitment. You have to love it. I was able to convince people who were crazy enough to come work with me, to be committed in the same way.”
Charles explains that the pandemic did force his athletic department to pivot and change from the traditional ways that they were operating.
“I think for us, we were really big on the tactical interpersonal approach. Tight-knit small athletics filling in for each other. Coaches helped other programs. We had to take a step back and say, ‘what does support look like from two or three degrees away? How can we create these true virtual environments, not just check a box?’ We have to create a space in time that we would all commit to.”
Chicago State University is gearing up for the 2021 athletic season, Elliott Charles says they have the benefit of learning from others who’ve already had to put on a game day in this new environment.
“What I’ve observed, and as I continue to observe these contingencies, people are making decisions as a team committee approach, having a first and second point of contact. I can’t say that there’s just one person responsible. The point is we’ve had to take a committee approach and commit to it.”
He says they’ve discussed testing, capacity rules, CDC guidelines, and found nuggets of useful information in every conversation. He’s tried to incorporate that information and communicate as much as he can to everyone.
“As we learned about COVID reporting and sharing data, there’s power in everyone feeling encouraged to share data. Collaboration, that’s the theme. Opening day is a week away in basketball. We are still working through it. No doubt though, there may be changes from game one to game two to game 12.”
Elliott Charles explains that the changes coming to game day has meant they’ve had to be creative and open-minded in their approach with partners.
“We’ve really looked to be creative in asking for input from our sponsors, from our partners. We had an opportunity to create what we wanted. I got some great advice from some really good colleagues and good friends at this point. It was to do the simple things. But after you do the simple things, my thought was we can be ambitious. And part of that ambition has led to Nike and BSN being incredible partners. We’ve been able to make venue enhancements, like our floor. We’re geared up and we’re using this year as an incubating year. The partners have done a great job in saying, ‘okay, let’s study this year. Let’s observe this type of data on the difference in venue services, concessions, and tickets. What would be a great sponsorship opportunity?’ That’s been our approach. We’ve got to be open-minded.”
“What’s floated to the top has been mostly philanthropic. We tied a philanthropic day to our season opening. We had a doubleheader going on and we said, ‘what can we do unique?’ That’s unique to actually set up our annual fund, and we’ve seen an extreme interest in people looking at a day of engagement associated with the start of basketball. This virtual environment has helped us be in more than one room at once. When it comes to revenue opportunities, we’ve been able to sit in multiple rooms and engage multiple crowds at once.”
Charles closed the conversation by saying that the one message he drives home to everyone is to stay the course.
“If you can get those things right, if you can stay the course and focus on the student experience, we have this awesome opportunity in athletics. Athletics is about discipline, it’s about health, it’s about focusing on building blocks in your career. Stay the course and remain committed and understand this won’t last forever. History tells us whether it’s the pandemic or business, there are recalibrations that happen. It’s now happened during our lifetime. This is a great learning moment.”