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HUNTINGTON — Marshall University Athletics saw an increase in student-athletes asking for counseling services as they navigate the demands of being a student and an athlete in the pandemic.

Marshall Athletic Director Mike Hamrick told the university Board of Governors athletic committee Thursday there have been more requests for mental health assistance than in all the 12 years he’s been athletic director.

“It’s because we’ve basically, I hate to say it, tried to lock our student-athletes down,” Hamrick said. “We’ve told them, ‘If you want to compete, you’ve got to distance, wear masks.’ They can’t go to restaurants. They can’t go to bars or parties. They can’t socialize with their teammates in the regular way. For almost a year now — that’s really tough on an 18- to 19-year-old kid away from home. You don’t have a life outside of Marshall academics and athletics. That has created the anxiety and them reaching out to us for help.”

Hamrick said most of the time athletes are reaching out themselves for help, but in some cases coaches, trainers or doctors notice something is off and refer the athlete to counseling.

Hamrick said they have to play games, both for the well-being of the athletes but also the financial well-being of the department. The athletes have stayed healthy, but one positive case of COVID-19 on the team or staff can wipe out a whole series of basketball, for example, due to contact tracing.

Overall, more than 2,600 COVID-19 tests have been administered in the athletic department. The department has maintained a 1% positivity rate, which Hamrick was proud of.

Vaccination for COVID-19 continues campuswide. Senior Vice President for Operations/Chief of Staff Brandi Jacobs-Jones reported that 50% of the university’s 1,634 full-time employees who requested to be vaccinated have been fully vaccinated. Also, 75% of employees who opted for the vaccine have had at least the first dose. Vaccine clinics for employees are expected to continue throughout the month of March.

It is still unknown when students will begin getting the vaccine.

In other business, the board heard updates on capital projects occurring around campus.

The university is moving forward with construction of a new, state-of-the-art facility for the Lewis College of Business, to be built in the 1400 block of 4th Avenue on a plot of land that formerly housed The Flats on 4th apartment complex. Marshall purchased the land in December for $1.5 million.

“Meetings are currently underway for the programming phase of the development,” reported Toney Stroud, board member. “We are looking at the facility’s key components, including classroom space, office areas and green space. We anticipate the design phase should be completed by September, with a groundbreaking in January 2022 and a completed facility by October 2023.”

Students are expected in the facility by January 2024.

As for the long-awaited baseball stadium, Hamrick reported approximately $4 million has been raised toward the project, and that he and Big Green Executive Director John Sutherland anticipate additional gifts when they can begin making in-person solicitations again. Hamrick said he expects to re-engage the facility’s architect next month.

The university’s budget as a whole is doing better than projected, with an additional $1.2 million in revenue from tuition and fees. This led to the reinstatement of faculty salaries, which had been reduced as part of pandemic-related cost-saving measures.

The university has lost $20 million in revenue from the pandemic and incurred $18 million in expenses. Part of those expenses was $1.13 million to fund the Promise Scholarship after the university didn’t receive funding from the state. Last week, university President Jerome Gilbert asked the Senate Finance Committee to reinstate those funds. University chief financial officer Mark Robinson said the back-funding would be a “windfall” and they are meeting with Gov. Jim Justice about the issue Tuesday.

West Virginia University and Bethany College also did not receive funding for Promise Scholarships.

In other business, the board approved a new policy aimed at boosting the use of small and diverse business suppliers at the university. Since 2018, the small and diverse business program has worked to support more small and minority-owned businesses. The approved policy formalizes the process and is based on an existing federal policy.

A second policy update, GA-4 on Intellectual Property, was approved by the academic and student affairs committee and forwarded to the finance, audit and facilities planning committee for further review.

The board also met in executive session for more than three hours to discuss personnel matters but took no action.

Reporter Taylor Stuck can be reached at tstuck@hdmediallc.com. Follow her on Twitter and Facebook @TaylorStuckHD.

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