When Ed Kull found out in the spring that he would become the interim athletic director, effective July 1, he knew he would be taking on the job in a challenging environment.

“It was right at the heart of our postseason tournaments for college basketball, men’s and women’s, and right before the NCAA tournament … so it was kind of a big deal when those got canceled.”

Since then, the spring seasons for all sports were canceled by the Atlantic 10 and the Patriot League, the two conferences Fordham competes in. Sports that normally take place during the fall season have been rescheduled for next spring.

“I’ve got to give credit to both of our commissioners in both those leagues,” Kull said. “They were two of the first five or so throughout all athletic conferences to suspend fall sports and I thought that was strong leadership. I thought that was extremely helpful in terms of us being able to protect our student-athletes, protect our families and parents, and give them information and direction.”

Mental Health and Well-Being

As soon as the news about the postponement of the fall season was announced, Kull said he and his team began checking in with student-athletes and their families about how they were handling the news.

“We’ve had an extensive amount of communication—all of our coaches are having Zoom calls with our student-athletes on a weekly basis so I join many of those,” he said.

Kull said he was concerned about the mental health of many of his athletes who are so used to having jam-packed schedules and access to gyms and training centers.

“The mental health piece for me was a real priority for our student-athletes,” he said. “I worried a lot about them because they are very active—they’re practicing three hours a day. They’re lifting, running, doing strength conditioning. They had their classes, sometimes they’re watching video and preparing for competitions, so all of a sudden, [they’re] going straight back maybe to their home or their hometown and not even being able to go to a local gym to run on a treadmill.”

Kull said they worked with two of Fordham’s psychologists to set up town halls to allow students to address their concerns.

Off the Field

While it’s not something anyone would wish for, Kull said, the pandemic has allowed him to focus on off-the-field programs and issues.

“It has allowed me to really fully dive into our finances—our budget management, our resource allocation, our prioritization—and of course, the challenges of social injustice, which we’re putting a lot of effort into, which is so important,” he said.

Kull said they started a task force for social injustice about two months ago, which has allowed a group of student-athletes, coaches, and staff to discuss discrimination, race, and bias, and how those affect students involved in athletics.

The department issued a statement in June that said it is “committed to fostering an inclusive space that has zero tolerance for intolerance.”

“We are committed to organizing bias education and racial justice training for all Fordham Athletics coaches and staff,” the statement read, “committed to supporting Fordham SAAC with their initiatives in The Bronx; committed to implementing a protocol for reporting racist and prejudice acts in our community.”

Kull said that commitment has inspired ongoing discussion.

“It continues to be a very strong conversation on a daily basis for myself and our athletic department of how we can be better and better support our student-athletes, especially those that are Black or of a minority race,” he said. “We’re in the process here of finalizing an action plan that hopefully we’ll be able to roll out in a few weeks once our student-athletes return to campus.”

His team has also been able to add to the programs the department offers off the field, including leadership training and internship connections.

“Career Services, student development, the mental health, the overall health and wellness of our students— in an odd way, it’s been an opportunity for us to reprioritize,” he said, adding that he is working on a new strategic plan.

A Sense of Normalcy

Kull said his plans have included making sure student-athletes returning to campus are following New York State guidelines, including quarantine and testing. (Update: On Aug. 25, the athletics department released its COVID-19 health and safety plan, which details measures and precautions to keep student-athletes safe.)

“We have a significant amount of student-athletes coming from the 38 “hot states,” and we have 44 international students that we’ve been working with,” he said “So [it’s] a lot of moving parts in terms of each individual case,” he said, adding that he’s been working closely with colleagues in student affairs, residential life, and admissions. The plan for the fall is to have no competitions, he said, but in accordance with state health guidelines, there will be some practices and workouts to give student-athletes some sense of normalcy.

“At least it allows them to get back because they literally haven’t been playing or been together in almost five months now, so at least it’s a step in the right direction,” Kull said.

While the NCAA granted an extra year of eligibility to all spring sport senior student-athletes, Kull said about 19 out of 36 senior student-athletes chose to take advantage of that eligibility at Fordham this coming year.

“Each of them was different—a lot of them had plans after graduation with internships and jobs lined up, or some were going to different programs to get their master’s,” he said. “So [we’re] excited to bring some of them back but obviously it continues to be challenging.”

Despite the challenges, Kull said he and his team are hoping to provide the best atmosphere they can for their student-athletes this season.

“I’m continuing to focus and prioritize the health and safety of our student-athletes,” he said. “I know it’s been a challenging time for many folks. So first and foremost is a strong and productive opening and return to campus for all of our students, not just our student-athletes, and the ability to kind of give back some sort of normalcy to them. We want to get them back healthy and safe, and for our athletes, we want to continue to provide them the best student-athlete experience that we can.”