Q&A with Minot State’s Director of Athletics Andrew Carter
The last five months have seen a whirlwind of changes due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Andrew Carter, the director of athletics at Minot State University, recently reflected on the ever-changing landscape of Division II athletics and what the future might hold.
Here is a transcript of the conversation. Some responses are edited for brevity and clarity.
MDN: What has it been like as an athletic director trying to navigate the challenges of a global pandemic?
AC: Obviously, it’s unprecedented with the amount of change and new territory that we have tried to navigate. Generally speaking, I’ve been doing this for quite a long time, and you are used to constant change anyways. Just not this type of change. So, it has been challenging.
We have a great administrative team in our athletic department, really great coaches to work with and a lot of support from the senior administration on campus. So, none of it has been that hard.
The hard part has been the unknown, and the velocity and number of changes that have been made. But, this is what we do. Leaders have to lead even when things aren’t perfect.
MDN: What are some of the harder decisions or scenarios you have encountered?
AC: Most of the difficulty for me is the lack of good opportunities to communicate with our students and our coaches. We have had ongoing and very fluid conversations with the other ADs (athletic directors), presidents and SWAs (senior women administrators) in our conference. But, these conversations have generally resulted in no action.
They have resulted in more questions. You spent two hours on a video conference call and you really haven’t resolved anything. Except, you come up with better questions to ask.
So, coming out of that, we aren’t able to go, ‘Here is Plan A and here is what Plan B and here is what Plan C is.’ Instead, we basically say, ‘Well, we won’t know anything for another two weeks.’
It’s been like that for a few months. To me, that’s the hardest part.
MDN: Throughout all of this, what have you learned about your coaches and student-athletes?
AC: It’s not that I have learned this, but it has reaffirmed that our coaches and students are way more resilient than even they think they are, at times. They have done a great job of keeping the goal in front of them, continuing to prepare, work hard and not let any news overwhelm them.
We keep pushing toward the goal of getting students back on campus so they can work on their education in a more normal fashion. Then start to train them and get them ready for competition.
MDN: What are your thoughts on the fall sports season getting pushed back?
AC: I wasn’t initially in favor of it because I don’t know what is going to change. But our conference has decided together that we are going to move as one unit since parts of our league can’t get to where they need to go right now to open up on time. I voted for unity.
I would rather have a shortened fall season with a championship in the first semester than to take a chance on it being canceled or moved to the spring. I think those are later discussions we can have.
So, I was convinced that this was the right thing to do for our conference and for all of our student-athletes among the 16-member institutions.
MDN: At the NCAA Division II level, is playing without spectators a feasible option financially?
AC: I think it’s more of a feasible option financially because of how little money most of us make at the gate. It adds up over the year, but we aren’t a top draw in our conference like a school closer to the Twin Cities.
We count on that revenue here, but it’s just a small piece of the pie.
There comes a point with what we would have to do to have fans might be more costly than not having any. But, I’m hopeful we are going to have fans when we open up.
In Minot, North Dakota, the whole pandemic is just different here. I’m currently in Missouri, and you can’t go anywhere without a mask. It’s just different.
When we have home events, right now, we are planning on having fans. When are planning on making adjustments like the gameday personnel might be masked up and the way concessions work might be tweaked a little bit. But, as of right now on July 28, we plan on moving forward with fans and trying to make it the best experience possible for everybody.
MDN: Since you said you don’t rely heavily on ticket sales, where is most of the revenue coming from?
AC: Most of our budget comes from other revenues like sponsorships, corporate sponsorships, boosters, fundraising money through the Beaver Booster Club, student fees and through institutional revenues.
That’s how most Division II schools operate with multiple revenue streams to get us where we need to be.
I’m also not going to tell you that missing the gate sales or concession stand revenue won’t hurt us. But I don’t think we are going to miss all of it. It might be a percentage of it, and we will have to find the rest of the money elsewhere.
We are in such uncharted waters. Like traveling is going to cost more because we will have to get more hotel rooms to spread the students out and, with our location in the conference, we often can’t avoid overnight stays. But, we also now have a reduced schedule.
We are still trying to get a good handle on how it will all flush out. And about the time you think you have a handle on it, another decision gets made. Fluid is really the best term to say what we are right now.
MDN: Switching topics, any reason why the air-supported bubble over Herb Parker Stadium has stayed up longer than usual?
AC: The initial reason it stayed up is that all of our students went home and we didn’t have the manpower to take it down. So, we decided that we would wait. Also, the company that helps us do that is based out of Minneapolis and they were shut down. When they reopened in July, we had to get back in line since they work with several schools.
We decided to keep waiting because, at the end of the day, if we aren’t going to have a fall season then we don’t need to take it down. We would just be putting it back up again in a few months. It costs about $37,000 to put it down and then $37,000 to put it back up. It’s a $75,000 decision.
So, we are in a holding pattern because it’s a significant financial decision.
MDN: Minot State is heading into a pending fall season with the same staff of coaches from last year. How important is it to have that kind of stability given everything that has gone on?
AC: It’s huge. I don’t think I can overstate how important the continuity of a coaching staff is. From a recruiting standpoint, the same coaches are going into the same schools to talk with high school coaches.
Also, with the way we are training them, the culture is palpable. When we hired (football coach) Mike Aldrich, that was our goal to change the culture and then see this thing take off. I think we are in that position.
MDN: Any advice or words of encouragement you want to relay to your student-athletes heading into the upcoming semester?
AC: We are proud of them. We are ready for them to be back. Whatever obstacles that get in our way, we know that together we can handle it.
We can continue to build the dam like we have been doing.
Alex Eisen covers Minot State athletics, the Minot Minotauros and high school sports. Follow him on Twitter @AEisen13.