I hope that you and your family had a great holiday season and that you are in good health and spirits as we begin the new year.
I am extremely proud of our football program this season under the incredible leadership of Dabo Swinney. Though the outcome in New Orleans wasn’t what we hoped for, this team showed extraordinary resilience throughout the season in doing all of the remarkable things it took just to be on the field. The 125th season of Clemson Football isn’t one we’ll soon forget.
As we turn the calendar to 2021, it’s important we take a moment to appreciate all we’ve been through together in 2020. This past year presented us with both challenges and successes that we never could have imagined. We had no understanding of just how significant the impacts of the pandemic would be–and continues to be.
Just two months after playing for a National Championship in football, we found ourselves at midcourt of the ACC Tournament when the league made the correct decision to cancel the Tournament just moments before our scheduled tip. At that point, our baseball team was off to a hot start, our softball program had a promising inaugural season underway, and track, tennis, rowing and golf were well underway.
The halt to activity was a shock to all of us, and even now, nine months later, the challenges persist for our student-athletes, staff, fans and all of those impacted in our community and nation. A new “normal” has yet to emerge, and while we remain optimistic, we must continue to be vigilant and make smart health decisions.
When the ACC and NCAA discontinued sport seasons in March, we simultaneously worked to ensure academic commitments were met, and with our medical advisors, began to look ahead to the fall of 2020, and what that could look like. As the months passed, it became clear that the pandemic would greatly impact the operations of our fall sports.
As we know, the events of social and racial injustice in May and June ignited difficult but necessary discussions and demands for change. I am proud of our staff and student-athletes for using their voices to speak up, and we know our work in this area is far from over. We have more than 60 staff volunteers in a committee charged with carrying out our diversity, equity and inclusion plan. This was created in concert with the ClemsonFORWARD campus initiative, and we are excited to have such great engagement.
It’s difficult to describe just how much planning and energy went into bringing sports back. Our student-athletes have sacrificed, and have been terrific in how they’ve taken seriously the health and safety recommendations from experts. The ACC’s institutions and our medical advisory group developed incredibly well-thought out protocols to ensure a safe return to competition. And, of course, our state and University have been instrumental in helping to guide a return to campus, resulting in in-person classes, and for athletics – the opportunity to have fans in our venues.
Dr. Delphine Dean and her team at the CLIA lab have done a remarkable service to the Clemson community and were instrumental to campus operations and our ability to compete. We built protocols for every venue and areas within those venues, and we had support from the South Carolina Department of Commerce and South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC).
Working in college athletics, there is a natural rhythm to the events. I chose this profession in part because of the ability to watch our young men and women achieve at such a high level on and off the field. They come to Clemson from all over the world – 27 states, 21 countries and six continents – because they know what we have here is unique. Our priority has always been–and will always be–to provide a world-class student-athlete experience. Our department units are set up to support our student-athletes, coaches and staff with everything they need for success including academic support, mental health, nutrition, coaching, strength and conditioning and more.
While not as important as the health and safety of our student-athletes, coaches, staff and fans, the financial impact of the pandemic has been significant. It’s no secret that football generates a large share of the revenue to support Clemson Athletics. For us to be able to mitigate drastic long-term effects of the pandemic, we explored every avenue to play safely in front of our fans. This was no small feat – just 29 schools hosted six or more home football games this year, and Clemson ranked third nationally with 112,367 people passing safely through our gates. This was a tremendous accomplishment, and yet still was nearly 450,000 people short of a typical season.
It is with deep appreciation that despite the limited 23% capacity in the stands and no tailgating, IPTAY donors generously stepped up and gave us 89% of annual philanthropic dollars this year. From conversations that I have had with my peers, this is among the highest rates of giving anywhere in the nation. IPTAY funds nearly $13 million in annual scholarships, as well as all of our student-athlete support programming. Without this support, we simply would not be able to offer the experience we do to our nearly 500 student-athletes.
Despite the incredible generosity of our donors, the financial impacts of the pandemic continue to be felt and we have had to make some difficult decisions. University-wide pay cuts and implementing furloughs and other cost-cutting measures will still leave us with an anticipated resource shortfall of $25 million in this fiscal year. We must continue to evaluate how to best use our resources going forward.
For the past several years, our campus has trended toward a 50-50 percentage of men to women undergraduates. This caused us to take a hard look at what our future sports portfolio would look like. The need for short and long-term compliance in gender equity, as well as long-term cost considerations, were significant factors in the difficult decision to discontinue our men’s track and field program and cross country after the season concludes this spring.
Clemson will continue to honor student-athlete scholarships for the individuals who receive them. Additionally, all impacted student-athletes will continue to have access to benefits currently afforded to them including sports medicine, academic support, career development, mental health services and access to strength and conditioning facilities while enrolled at Clemson.
The year that was left us with positive momentum in many areas. Our department set a record with a Graduation Success Rate of 93% and we set consecutive records for overall department GPAs in a semester in both the spring and fall. On the fields and courts of competition, our football program claimed its sixth consecutive ACC Championship and played in the College Football Playoff for a sixth time. Our Men’s Soccer program is currently ranked #1 in the country and won the ACC Championship this fall. We are off to excellent starts in both men’s and women’s basketball and had a good fall in women’s soccer and volleyball.
It is important to step back and appreciate all that we have accomplished together, and yet still acknowledge how much we have to do. It is with your support that Clemson University and Clemson Athletics continue to improve, year after year.
I remain optimistic about our ability to move forward in 2021, and can’t express my appreciation enough to all of you.
Thank you, and Happy New Year.
Director of Athletics