In August of 2020, Charlotte athletic director Mike Hill and the entire athletic department were preparing to navigate the new norm.
A year later, the 49ers are dealing with the same issues as the 2021-22 school year approaches. The pandemic still presents numerous questions as the COVID-19 delta variant has sparked a rise in cases around the country in Charlotte.
According to a recent Mecklenburg County report, an average of 12.4% of tested individuals was positive for COVID-19. The trend in new cases has promoted stricter guidelines such as UNC Charlotte requiring masks on campus regardless of vaccination status.
For Hill and his team, this means some things are still up in the air when it comes to fall sports.
"It really is still TBA," said Hill of the Fall season in early August. "Right now, we are still moving forward with our plans, and we are selling tickets. We attend to have as many fans in the stands as we can."
Charlotte will start the season with a bang as the football team hosts Duke on Sep. 7. After only playing six games in 2020 due to covid related issues, Hill hopes to have the team on the field for the entire season.
"We have protocols in place because of the delta variant to keep everyone safe," said Hill. "It's really important that we complete a full schedule this year, and I think everyone around the country recognizes that."
Hill says the best the teams can do is prepare for any changes, as cases have proven to be up and down throughout the summer. However, when it comes to the football team getting every game completed, it's not only important for financial reasons but for the players too.
"It's important for the morale and the success of our program," said Hill. "In the end, there are clearly financial repercussions if we do not play all of the games on our schedule. More than anything, it's important for these young men to be able to play 12 games. They are here to get an education, and they are here to play."
The vaccine will be important for the 49ers teams when it comes to completing games on time this year. Hill says players have heard from medical experts about the vaccine to ensure they have the most up-to-date information about the COVID-19 vaccine.
"We have provided a lot of vaccine education to our student-athletes and our staff," said Hill. "We have had medical experts come in, multiple experts that have spoken to the teams since the start of the pandemic to talk about the safety of the vaccine and answer the questions of the athletes."
Hill added that he feels "really good and confident" about the athletic program's position at the moment when it comes to the rate of vaccinations amongst athletes. He added there's still a way to go, but progress has been made even in the last few weeks.
The upcoming season will be important for Charlotte for multiple reasons. Covid-19 will still present its set of challenges. Another important part of the year will be to keep growing the new rebrand launched over a year ago, titled "BoldRush." The University added the new logo to the middle of the 49er football field and other areas of athletic facilities.
Even the demand for new Charlotte merchandise has been through the roof, according to Hill.
"It's been hugely successful," said Hill of the rebranding. "We can't keep the bookstore in stock of new merchandise, which is a good indication we are selling merchandise faster than we can keep it in stock."
Hill says even metrics show the new brand is connecting with people even outside the program. With now a full year of getting exposure through TV, there is still even more room for growth for the brand.