Michigan State's Bill Beekman: Big Ten focus will be on student-athletes

Matt Charboneau
The Detroit News

As schools around the country wrestle with the cancellation of sports, Michigan State athletic director Bill Beekman said there has been no shortage of communication among his peers at the Big Ten.

Late last week, the sporting world was halted due to ongoing concerns over the spread of the coronavirus and it has left college athletic directors scrambling. Conference basketball tournaments were scrapped, the NCAA Tournament was canceled and all spring sports were done just as they were getting started.

Michigan State athletic director Bill Beekman says his fellow BIg Ten athletic directors have shown a "laser focus" on the best interests of student-athletes.

The Big Ten’s athletic directors have been in constant contact, Beekman said, with an emphasis on doing what’s right for the student-athletes and coaching staffs.

“What I've heard from my colleagues is really a laser focus on what's in the best interest of our students,” Beekman said during an interview on “Staudt on Sports,” which airs on 730 AM in Lansing. “How do we keep them safe? How do we keep our coaches and our staff safe, and how do we implement that? How do we work with our colleagues to make all that happen?

“I think people have been very uniform in being concerned about that in these uncharted waters and what we do to be on the safe side of life, to take care of people and make sure they're safe and healthy and well.”

That was the reasoning behind shutting down the sporting world as a whole, but it has created plenty of obstacles moving forward. One of the biggest moves already made was the NCAA allowing eligibility relief for those participating in spring sports with discussions about winter sports like men’s and women’s basketball continuing.

It’s the right thing to do, most agree, but it will create issues with scholarships and roster sizes moving forward, while there’s also some thought spring seasons could be moved to the fall.

“This is a time where it's really important that we think creatively and outside the box,” Beekman said. “There are a lot of ideas being kicked around. One is to just simply give those students, where the stoppage would have cost them a year, to give them an additional year. … I think there's also been some conversation about, is it possible — if this (virus) passes successfully and we're back to sort of a full-functioning environment in June or July — is it possible to have some abbreviated spring sport schedule in the fall? That's been kicked around by a number of folks.

“So I think we're still in that stage of people thinking very creatively about how to make sure that students have opportunities and that people are treated in a safe and reasonable way. There's just a lot of creativity in the system between individual schools, the conferences and the NCAA. … I really wouldn't be surprised by anything at this point. I think we're sort of in a never-say-never environment and it's just a little bit hard to tell how it's gonna shake out.”

While basketball was nixed at the most anticipated time of the year and sports like baseball and softball hardly got moving, the timing is especially tough for Michigan State’s football team.

Spring practice was supposed to begin Tuesday with the first of 15 practices. It’s a critical time for the Spartans as they begin a new era under coach Mel Tucker, who took over for Mark Dantonio in early February. Now, a new coaching staff is doing its best to meet remotely while trying to stay in contact with the players.

Beekman hopes there’s still a chance teams can hold workouts at some point early in the summer before preseason camp is scheduled to start at the beginning of August.

“From my perspective, obviously with a new head coach, we'd relish the opportunity to get our young men in for some number of days,” Beekman said. “Spring ball is off the table, but could we schedule something in early June or mid-June with enough time to get our guys home and rested for most of July? That probably would be optimal.

“At the conference level and at the NCAA they're exploring those options, and I think the watchword so far has been to try and be as flexible as possible to help people through this situation and think about how we can amend the rules on a one-time basis to keep people as whole as we can. So it's my hope that we find a way to do that, but those are largely NCAA rules in terms of when sprint practice can occur. So, so we'll be appealing to the to the NCAA to let that happen.”

In the meantime, the Spartans continue to wait, just like the rest of the world. Beekman said players and coaches are antsy, ready to start diving in to whatever they’ll be able to.

He also admitted there are financial concerns for some schools in the conference, especially after the Big Ten and NCAA tournaments were not played. Cutting back will be the reality for some schools, but Beekman said he doesn’t anticipate anything significant at Michigan State.

“We at MSU athletics and Michigan State University are trying to do our part,” Beekman said. “We just encourage everybody to the follow the social distancing rules and find time to spend a little more time with family and friends and with some prayers we’ll hopefully get through this soon.”


Twitter: @mattcharboneau