How Fordham Athletics Made the Spring Possible


Interim Athletic Director Ed Kull discusses how spring athletics have become prepared to get underway. (Courtesy of Fordham Athletics)

One week ago, Fordham Volleyball hosted Saint John’s University in the Rose Hill Gym. It was not only the first match of the season for a team typically playing in the fall, but the first after a 451-day layoff. More broadly, it was the first of a cascade of games that will follow in the spring.

Due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, many of Fordham’s athletic programs have seen their fall campaigns pushed to the spring. The list is long: volleyball, football, cross country, water polo and soccer, just to name a few. All of which join the usual spring suspects.

However, the hope that this much can occur requires a plan. To develop that, where does iInterim Athletic Director Ed Kull and the Athletic Department start? By looking to the past.

Fordham Men’s and Women’s Basketball have been on the court for the past few months to largely promising results. After nearly three months without a positive test across Fordham Athletics, there have been two shutdowns in the men’s program and a fair share of canceled games for the women. However, the season has rolled on regardless, with lessons learned from it.

“It’s definitely been a little bit of a roller coaster in terms of learnings,” said Kull. 

Learnings that have come out of tremendous challenges for the program’s athletes, from quarantine in their dorm rooms to staying on an empty campus over the holidays amid the overall uneasiness surrounding the season. “It was a powerful reminder that it’s so much more than basketball in terms of a lot of things we’re dealing with.” 

In response, the department adopted a focus on mental health, with doctors from student affairs and New York professional teams brought in for support. Kull remarked, “You really got to take it day by day and make sure we’re just putting the best interest of the student athletes first, always.”

That focus lays the groundwork for combating the challenges that are bound to continue in the Spring. This past weekend, both basketball programs had their schedules uprooted, as water polo’s inaugural match was postponed. “It’s just the ongoing ability to be flexible,” says Kull.

Beyond that, New York City has seen its coronavirus numbers spike of late. With this level of severity, the challenges of the spring may be even greater than those of the fall. Furthermore, managing this number of sports would likely prove challenging in an ordinary season, far more difficult amid the safety measures of the pandemic. However, the department is prepared for it.

Standard spring sports will play in regional pods and eliminate excessive travel, similar to the current basketball season. Each athletic program is subject to different testing protocols based on their level of contact, all of which is done according to NCAA standards. There are also daily temperature checks and the utilization of Fordham’s VitalCheck system. When it comes to playing itself, practice routines must fall in accordance with health protocols.

These precautionary measures are overseen by the Atlantic 10 and Patriot League, doctors who are “part of every conversation we have on a nightly basis,” Kull said. “I don’t pretend to be a doctor by any means, but believe me, we have two of them on my left and right shoulder at all times during this interesting time, and no decision is made right now without doctor approval.”

This cannot ultimately eliminate the risks of playing amid a pandemic, but it puts a plan in place to combat it. “There’s going to be teams on pause. We’re going to have cases, that’s inevitable,” says Kull. “It’s just a matter of when and how do we properly handle it.”

That “we” does not just come down to athletics either, but a united university effort. “We’re all in this together. It’s not an athletics question or situation,” says Kull.

Kull is also of the belief that this commitment will be for the better. In a piece in the Athletic Director U, he described Fordham’s future as “exactly what it was and completely different.”

Ultimately, Kull embraces this future. “Although they are difficult as we continue to go through this pandemic, those learnings are extremely important as we change the way we do things moving forward,” whether it be from the coronavirus pandemic or the calling for social justice.

“As much as change and the unknown is scary, the ability for us to work together, work more strongly, closely and unified is the excitement I talk about in that line,” says Kull.

This comes from a personal perspective for Kull, who has built many relationships since becoming athletic director amid the pandemic. “I feel very close to a lot of my colleagues on campus and we’re working that much more efficiently and collaboratively, and I think that’s the optimism,” says Kull.

With such a big picture in mind, the present comes in the spring season. The difficult work has been done in the background to make that possible. And, hopefully, to turn right back around and have another season in the fall. Concerns come with that, but the same optimism is there too.

Football’s recent signing day was a first sign of that. Coach Conlin jokingly said, “it’s an opportunity to have two Patriot League championships in the same calendar year.” 

Opportunities like that make the spring, in all its uncertainty, exciting. Not just for Kull, who has been in the stands for basketball games, but as the focus always is, for the student athletes.

Regardless of how empty, perhaps even dismal, things may look, Kull knows how valuable sports are to them. “I think what I look forward to is literally for that two hours, I know our students get lost in the game, get lost in the love of playing.”

Kull continues to look toward the future, as he always does, but that love is the most important factor here. The work of the entire Fordham community has made the return of athletics this Spring a possibility.