Name, image, likeness. Transfer eligibility issues. So many others that make up NCAA governance, part of Grace Calhoun’s day-to-day life as an athletic director but also as current chair of the NCAA Division I council, the body that decides the rules across the top level of college sports.
In that role, Calhoun also is part of the NCAA board of directors, as a voting member. And the NCAA board of governors, as a non-voting member. Those groups handle all divisions.
Your head hurting yet? Keep going. Calhoun is chair of the Ivy League’s committee on administration, essentially the working committee of Ivy athletic directors.
None of this, even pre-coronavirus, is ceremonial. Even that board of governors where Calhoun doesn’t vote -- “I present a lot of information.” We’re not going to define the roles of all those bodies. Just understand that’s where the NCAA sausage is made.
Then there’s Calhoun’s day job, running Penn’s athletic department, in charge of 33 varsity sports that includes nearly a thousand athletes, with 165 employees.
Now, picture the overlap, while sheltering at home, Calhoun with three computers working simultaneously in a room over a garage in Penn Valley, monitoring three meetings, needing to know when she’s expected to jump in. Using not just Zoom as a video platform, but Microsoft Team, BlueJeans, Skype, GoTo Meeting.
Imagine all the extra meetings that have come up to deal with the coronavirus. A standing monthly meeting with Penn’s provost, now “much more regular; I talked to the provost yesterday,’’ offering recaps of what was going on in the athletic department, from students who might be applying for fifth-year waivers, to budget and staffing items. All that, Calhoun labels “most important.”
Ivy League athletic directors typically would have a monthly call. Now? Every Wednesday and Friday. As chair of the Ivy AD group, Calhoun was always in regular contact with Ivy executive director Robin Harris.
“Last week, there was a point we were talking every day,’’ Calhoun said.
A five-hour NCAA board of governors call? That was Tuesday. Another five-hour board of directors call? Wednesday. The week before, there was a call with NCAA president Mark Emmert and the commissioners of the Power 5 leagues, with name, image, and likeness the chief agenda item, but “other current issues came up.” Then a seven-hour Division I council call on Friday.
Tech support? Calhoun’s teenage daughters can handle that. She couldn’t figure out how to stop the dinging going off in the background during video calls. She went into settings and turned off notifications. Still ... DING. DING.
“They marched over and within two minutes they had reset my settings,’’ Calhoun said of her daughters. And if street work in the neighborhood meant the internet went out, full scramble mode.
Calhoun has four children taking their classes at home now, from a junior in high school to a kindergartner, so yeah, the craziness is baked in every day. It helps that her mother, living with them now, used to teach English in junior college.
“Grandma is the primary teacher,’’ Calhoun said, and her husband is “doing the lion’s share’’ of keeping the household train on the tracks.
She’s learned that on video calls she has to be cognizant anybody could be looking at her at any time, how maybe training to be a news anchor would have come in handy.
There is no bathroom in the room above the garage, so Calhoun also has learned when to time sprints into the house, or when she can go grab a snack or drink to bring back.
Each of the jobs informs the others, Calhoun believes. An absolute synergy, she calls it. For instance, a regular briefing right now from the NCAA’s chief medical officer is invaluable. He’s the person talking to Anthony Fauci and others leading the public health effort in the federal government. So she’s far more informed, Calhoun believes, to brief Ivy and Penn colleagues.
In her sixth year at Penn, Calhoun had been AD at Loyola of Chicago. A former track and field athlete in her undergraduate days at Brown, Calhoun got a Ph.D. in higher education administration from Florida.
Even when the issues were basically about cancellations, “it felt like the workload tripled,’’ Calhoun said of what the last seven weeks have been like, from the time the Ivy League was the first Division I league to cancel its postseason basketball tournament. “All the layers of the onion had to be unpeeled moving forward.”
And then, the real trick, the onion has to somehow be put back together. So many issues, which bring up other issues. Preparing for all sorts of scenarios.
The votes aren’t always consistent across all these layers. Don’t think all these roles bring some kind of higher decision-making power. Calhoun knows each institution has its own views.
The NCAA decided athletes in canceled spring sports would be allowed eligibility next year, with each school given autonomy on the issue. The Ivy League supported this, but then decided it wouldn’t change its own rules to allow graduates to participate each spring. Calhoun made it clear that Penn had supported a waiver for this instance, but that didn’t have the league-wide votes to pass.
The front-and-center NCAA issues seem to keep growing exponentially.
“Recruiting, there has been a dead period, right now through May 31,’’ Calhoun said. “We’ve decided that in mid-May, based on the best available information, we’ll look at whether to lift that or have to extend it.”
Add another layer to that issue for Calhoun. As a mother. Her high school junior is a basketball player.
“There’s been no AAU season, no opportunities for standardized tests,’’ Calhoun said. “It really is an environment with layers of uncertainty. … We know the only certainty is the landscape is probably going to look different than it has in the past.”
Calhoun brought up a couple of times how her work, while necessary, doesn’t compare to that of health-care workers or people working in grocery stores or involved with important supply chains -- “keeping the country moving as it is now.”
Yeah, life is crazy. Last Thursday, there were standing committee meetings for Division I, for championships and football and basketball and strategic vision and planning. Calhoun was trying to monitor them all on her three computers. Plus there was a campus working group she was on with.
“I’ve heard my peers talk about this: There’s something very draining being on all these video calls,’’ Calhoun said. “You have to be sitting up straight, be careful what you’re doing.”
And if her children are having a debate that has nothing to do with NCAA governance but demands mom’s attention -- “We have had those. I have learned, all you can do is laugh.”
And race for that mute button. The goal for Calhoun is to get it all done by 6 p.m. Family meals still take precedence, and she tries to add in a few minutes late in the day just for personal reflection. Then there’s probably a little more work to do at night.