STATESBORO, Ga. (WTOC) - This is probably not how new Georgia Southern athletic director Jared Benko imagined he’d be stepping into his new role.
Benko, who officially begins his tenure in Statesboro on April 1, will walk into the role of athletic director in the midst of the unprecedented COVID-19 pandemic that has left college athletics sitting on the sideline for the rest of the academic year.
But more than anything, he’s been encouraged by the response of the Eagles.
“I’ve been really impressed by the resolve and the fortitude of our student-athletes. They understand the big picture, that this isn’t just applicable to them. This is obviously something everyone across the globe is facing,” Benko says. “You talk to them, especially the seniors, and you can tell how mature they are and how they’ve taken it in stride. But they’re definitely disappointed, as they should be.”
Benko says there is still a lot to work out for the time being, including the extra year of eligibility the NCAA says they’ll be granting for athletes who saw their seasons canceled.
Another thing Benko says he and the Eagle athletic officials must work out is how much of a financial hit the Georgia Southern athletic department will take from this.
The Eagles will save some money in travel costs, as teams won’t be making any road trips for the foreseeable future. But Benko notes there could be a dip in shared revenue from the Sun Belt Conference. He says that is one of the largest things he and his staff must monitor.
“There could be a $200-300k reduction in revenue. That’s still to be determined,” Benko says. “There’s about three months left in the fiscal year, so a lot of the attention in the next few weeks will be identifying those costs. I think we have to plan responsibly for a revenue reduction from the conference. What that total amount is is still to be determined.”
With the International Olympic Committee announcing Tuesday the Summer Olympics in Tokyo will be pushed back to 2021, many sports fans are now wondering about the impact COVID-19 will have on the upcoming college football season.
Spring practices across the country have already been canceled, and the season is set to begin in just five months.
Benko says he’s seen and heard the speculation on this fall’s campaign, but says it’s nothing more to him than speculation at this moment.
“There’s nothing in concrete right now, or any substantive talks about that. But sure, I think that’s going to be a discussion depending on how the next couple weeks and next couple months play out,” Benko says. "I know it’s being talked about behind closed doors, but obviously everyone is pretty optimistic in that we’ll get through this and football won’t be effected, or it will be minimal.”
Benko won’t have much time on the job before he has to make his first major move as Eagles’ athletic director.
Head men’s basketball coach Mark Byington resigned after seven seasons over the weekend, taking the head coaching job at James Madison.
Benko says there’s been “tons” of interest in the position in just the few days it’s been open.
“People know about the excitement going on on campus. I think people obviously have an appreciation for the job Mark did,” Benko says. “But the thing that keeps coming up is the feeling of the trajectory of the basketball program.”
Benko says the search process is still in the early stages, as they whittle the number of candidates down.