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Ticking down to a football season? UCLA’s Martin Jarmond remains hopeful

UCLA athletic director Martin Jarmond.
UCLA athletic director Martin Jarmond says the Pac-12 acquiring rapid tests for the coronavirus is “a positive development because it gets to the testing piece that’s such a critical component to playing and competing.”
(UCLA athletics)

Martin Jarmond’s body clock remains on Boston time even if his body resides in Southern California.

The new UCLA athletic director awoke at 4:30 a.m. Friday, 15 minutes earlier than the previous day, ready to face a schedule that can seem relentless. He hopped on a call with fellow Pac-12 Conference athletic directors, followed by one from a reporter inquiring about his department’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Before he took the first question, Jarmond excused himself to compose a tweet praising the conference’s medical experts.

“I want people to see that,” Jarmond told The Times, “because I do think they’re the best in the country as far as how they work together.”

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Jarmond seemed upbeat. The news that the Pac-12 had acquired rapid tests for the novel coronavirus might have opened the door for a return to games earlier than expected after the conference pushed back the start of fall sports until at least Jan. 1.

“There’s a lot of details to be worked out, a lot more questions than answers,” Jarmond said, “but the one thing we do know is this is a positive development because it gets to the testing piece that’s such a critical component to playing and competing. So who knows what it means? We just know that it’s positive.”

UCLA is among the Pac-12 schools still awaiting clearance from county and state health officials to resume full practices as viral case loads and positivity rates show slow but encouraging progress. Having tests that can provide results in 15 minutes would enable teams to ensure before practices and games that all participants did not carry the virus.

If all goes well, there will be football played in either late 2020 or early 2021. If not, the virus could take a financial sledgehammer to an athletic department already facing an $18.9-million shortfall for the 2019 fiscal year, with that figure expected to grow significantly once the 2020 numbers are finalized.

“Obviously, this is going to be a challenging financial year, as it is for everyone in the country in college athletics,” Jarmond said, noting that it was impossible to divulge any more specific information with his department shrouded in uncertainty after the football season was pushed back and then further postponed only to be potentially revived.

UCLA is trying to recoup what’s left on its record $280-million contract with Under Armour after suing the athletic apparel giant for more than $200 million as a result of Under Armour’s trying to prematurely terminate the deal. Meanwhile, the school has engaged potential successors, though no deal is imminent.

“You try to do one thing at a time and obviously we’re in a legal matter now with our apparel company,” Jarmond said, “so we’re progressing as judiciously as we can.”

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Department officials have tried to save money wherever possible, limiting travel and conducting all recruiting virtually as part of NCAA restrictions. Donors have helped by contributing more than $1 million as part of a Bruin Support Program in which they donated or reinvested the money they otherwise would have spent on tickets.

“You’re looking at everything in how you spend your dollars and you’re trying to be as resourceful as you can,” Jarmond said.

Jarmond said he was pleased with the way the department had engaged other parts of the school community, mentioning that a Voting Matters Initiative had partnered with two other campus organizations.

For Martin Jarmond, the unexpected death of his mother has given UCLA’s new athletic director an added perspective as he embarks on new challenges.

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“I think it’s going to have a positive impact, not only on our students as far as getting them registered and educating them but also just starting to build stronger connections with campus because that’s crucial to athletics success,” Jarmond said. “So what I have to do is build that rapport. We are all in this together, and it will take shared sacrifice and commitment to see it through.”

Jarmond’s early starts have come inside an apartment in the San Fernando Valley while some final belongings are moved into his new home nearby. He expects to take occupancy by the middle of next week in a residence that’s about two miles from the home of men’s basketball coach Mick Cronin.

“He recruited me,” Jarmond said with a laugh. “He’s good at that.”

If only Cronin had a cure for the circadian rhythm.


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