By NATE MARTINEZ
We’ve had to adapt to a lot in the six months since COVID hit the USA: wearing masks in public, going to school virtually, maintaining a six feet between ourselves and our friends and not being able to catch a quick ball game to ease the stress of our day to day lives.Yet, at what felt like the absolute perfect time, sports returned.
There is still a lot of work to be done obviously, but the way that organizations like the UFC, NBA and NHL have utilized the bubble (an area like the NBA’s temporary home at Orlando Sports Complex where only players, coaches and staff can stay), it would seem as though we are headed in the right direction. Other associations like the NFL and MLB still have a lot of work to do but are up and running for the time being.
With so many professional sports coming back, this had me thinking: “when will we get to see Pima Aztecs sports again?”
Pima Soccer had an amazing run this past year, as did the basketball program. With the news that most NCAA athletics will resume as usual would have anyone thinking there’s no way Pima can do away with these programs for a year.
Inspired to find answers to what will happen to Pima’s sports seasons, I decided to get in touch with Pima’s athletic director, Jim Monaco. Monaco and I discussed everything from the NJCAA to the effects that COVID has on our beloved sports.
Q: First of all, I’m sure you’ve received a lot of back and forth news regarding the sports season for Pima. How are your stress levels right now?
A: It gets difficult. Everyone wants answers but there’s none to give. Coaches are trying to figure everything out. We’re trying to get dates for everything… it just gets real tough.
Q: Pima athletics has seen a strong surge in the past couple of years since you’ve been athletic director. Pima’s soccer teams have been dominant lately, both basketball teams have made deep runs into their own tournaments, the list goes on. How important is it to you to make sure these guys get the season they had been hoping for?
A: It’s very important, mostly because you want to keep these guys engaged and in school. We’ve talked with these coaches and everybody agrees it’s important to have these teams back. But we have to do it safely, we have to make sure everybody’s following the right guidelines.
Q: What is the current state of Pima athletics and what should we expect for our colleges’ sports in the spring and fall of 2021?
A: We are hoping for a vaccine, that would be the best news. But as we are going, there are no sports until spring.
Q: How does that compare to other colleges in Arizona? I remember hearing that Maricopa Community cancelled their entire season altogether.
A: Yes, they did cancel their year. But the NJCAA came back and is going back to spring. The NJCAA has done, I believe, a far better job than any of these bigger universities are doing right now. They’re working to make sure that everybody is getting the season they deserve.
Q: Does the ACCAC moving all fall and winter sports to spring complicate things at all? And what’s the work that goes behind that?
A: It’s going to be hard. Pima has the most teams in the conference. To move into the spring will be difficult. We’ve all talked about that and understand that it’ll be difficult. Athletic trainers are all getting schedules to see what we can do. whether it’s one on one training or group exercise. We’re all getting schedules to see what we have to do. The biggest complications will be field space, trainers and transportation.
Q: Pima makes around $90,000 in revenue thanks to our amazing sports teams and fans. How much of that can we expect to lose with the absence of fans this year?
A: You said it: it’s our great sports and our great fans that got us all that money. So with no fans in the bleachers, we can pretty much expect to lose all of it. Without our fans we lose all of it. So we’re thinking of setting up a streaming site. We will stream games and maybe make like a pay per view. That way, our fans can watch all the games without having to be there. We haven’t completely figured it out, but right now we are looking into streaming the games.
Q: And what kind of loss would that do to scholarship offers and awards from Pima?
A: The great thing about Pima is, none of our stuff is on revenues. It’s all given by the college. No matter what happens we will get scholarships to the kids, and that’s how I like it.
Q: Has the ACCAC made any plans in giving athletes from previous cancelled seasons another year of eligibility?
A: The NJCAA has done that. Everybody has been given a redshirt in the spring. And we are looking into winter sports right now. We haven’t completely got it yet but we’re looking into it. Right now though, everybody who didn’t get the chance to play in the spring will play this year.
Q: Many university coaches and directors have said that they would rather have their kids in school and playing sports rather than staying home during a pandemic. Would you say you feel the same?
A: I’m not sure I do. Everytime you think we could do something you hear that another university is shutting down because they had another 300 cases. Do I think we could get back on campus? Yes. But having that many kids on campus, it’s thought provoking. You never want to be that campus that gets a huge surge in cases and all of this sudden we have to stop again.
Q: If Pima has to cut a program, which one would it have to be?
A: We’re not looking to cut any programs. I’ve been a coach of a team that had to get cut. It’s not a good feeling. You try so hard and get people to advocate. You just never want to have to cut a program. We have been able to save [the money] from the football team. We’re adding everything up too. With the extra space, we are adding esports to Pima. We’re adding three new esports. We don’t know when exactly but Pima is adding esports.
Q: Wow, that’s something new. I haven’t heard of that yet at all. May I ask what esports we will be adding and when we will be seeing them?
A: Math Bros, Rocketball and Madden. We also got a few sponsors so were looking to add three esports in May.
Q: Can I also ask who is sponsoring us?
A: I can’t give that information yet, but they are computer sponsors.
Q: Lastly, I’ve noticed that just about all sports are set to continue play in the springtime. Is there any specific reason why basketball, soccer and baseball get to continue to play, but not cross country?
A: We’re trying to get them to run right now. There’s just so much going on in the spring time that we’re trying to get ’em running soon in the fall or winter.
With such confidence from Pima athletic director Jim Monaco, one can expect Pima Athletics to be at full speed come Spring time.