Charlotte athletics director Mike Hill knew how big of a challenge the 2020-21 school would for Charlotte athletics before the year got going. Before any team took the field, seasons were already postponed.
As the 2020-21 school year now comes to a close, Hill recognizes the success the program had despite all the tall tasks that were in front of teams every day.
"There was a lot of unknown, a lot of concern, a lot of worry, a lot of exhilaration, all of those things I think is what we were concerned about," said Hill. "We've talked about this as a staff a lot, the victory was in competing period, that was the win in being able to safely play games and be able to train and compete."
Charlotte 49ers teams found success across the board throughout the year, with several teams becoming nationally ranked. The men's soccer, women's tennis, and baseball teams have spent ranked teams.
Hill talked with the Niner Times to reflect on the school year and all of the challenges that were presented.
Bradley Cole: Did any of the success surprise you this year because of the pandemic and everything going on?
Mike Hill: I would say yes and no. What doesn't surprise me is that we have programs that are starting to blossom and flourish. But what does surprise me is under these circumstances, because I just think that what maybe the outside observer might not understand is the is the effects of the regular testing that these student-athletes and coaches have to go through and the isolation that they have to go through to extreme. For 18, 19, 20-year-olds, the mental strain of that is very difficult. And the contact trace piece is very difficult, you know, a lot of our student-athletes who maybe missed games, because of COVID this year, in large part, it would be because they were contact trace, not necessarily because they themselves had COVID. And to be isolated for 14 days is difficult. And we had a few athletes who had to go through that more than once. So you know, what our athletes did, to be able to compete and perform to me, is something I marvel at.
BC: This year was obviously big with the new logo and all, how do you evaluate success year one of the new branding?
MH: We had high expectations because we really believed in the work because of all the inputs that were processed as a part of this. But I would say the success of it has really even exceeded my and our hopes at this point. We're not even a year into having rolled out the new brand and it's very, very clear that it's taken root.
BC: What have you and your team learned from the pandemic?
MH: I think we've learned a lot. I think we've learned that there are a lot of different ways for us to conduct business, for us to communicate. You know, I think this is going to impact recruiting, moving forward, and hiring, the ability to use virtual meeting settings instead of having to be in person all the time. Now, there's no substitute in the end for being around your people. But if you also consider the number of recruits and coaching prospects that, for example, Will Healy is looking to hire a new assistant football coach, he may talk to 20-plus people. And for him to be able to do that via zoom call and versus having to meet with him in person, that's incredible time savings and financial savings.
BC: Looking at the future, what will the future look like for full capacity crowds, especially for home Duke football game in the Fall?
MH: We've learned in this pandemic not to try to predict the future, but we do have a high level of optimism that we're going to be able to return and be in full capacity. In the end, that's ultimately not our decision. Those decisions remain at the state level. But if the medical experts and health officials in our state allow us to be in full capacity and feel that it's safe to do so we that's where we want to be is where we need to be. We need to pick up where we left off, at the end of the 2019 (football) season, we had a ton of momentum. A big part of that is having your fans. I think about the impact no fans had in our basketball games, and in our football games, and the fans are a part of that entire ecosystem of college athletics programs. And we not only do we miss them, we need them.
BC: From the public eye, Charlotte athletics hasn't been hit too hard when it comes to the financial standpoint. Where have things lined up this past year and in the future?
MH: I think that if we're able to resume a somewhat normal operation, then I expect us to have a big bounce-back year financially. We'll be able to sell tickets to games, we'll be able to play a football game at Illinois which will be a guaranteed game for us where we will receive a check for seven figures for that game. I expect our sponsorship revenues to bounce back. Because there'll be fans in the stands for them to be able to see and hear the advertisements. I think all the way around, the revenue streams have a real chance to bounce back and bounce back quickly.
Editors Note: This article has been edited for brevity and clarity.