WATCH: FAMU President Larry Robinson discusses the newest Rattler football players during a National Signing Day event inside the Grand Ballroom.
Florida A&M President Larry Robinson has dealt with his share of challenges throughout his tenure at the helm.
However, nothing he’s encountered from his office in Lee Hall compares to the trials stemming from the coronavirus.
The universal problems linked to the pandemic have uprooted the financial, cultural and social way of life on ‘The Highest of Seven Hills.’
Typical settings such as Set Fridays, tailgate parties at Bragg Memorial Stadium, homecoming festivities and fall sporting events are no longer a part of the university’s vibrant scene. These events were shut down in compliance with safety guidelines.
Robinson is saddened by the decision to eliminate these activities. However, he understands the overall health of students and staff is the main priority.
This past Friday, Robinson was a guest on Rattler Review, a FAMU sports talk show airing on 97.9 ESPN Radio Tallahassee. He discussed the shift in university operations and the economic ramifications of the pandemic.
“Like institutions of higher education and other types of businesses around the world, we had to make a major transformation in light of COVID-19. Back in the spring, in less than two weeks, we went from in-person mode to 100% remote instructions,” Robinson said during the radio interview.
“Since then, we’ve had the luxury of planning. The whole culture of our campus has changed. While it’s different, we’re still committed to the success of our students.”
Florida A&M University President Larry Robinson presents the State of the University Address at Lee Hall Auditorium, Tuesday, Feb. 25, 2020. (Photo: Alicia Devine/Tallahassee Democrat)
In terms of FAMU Athletics, Robinson confirmed the department has a balanced budget. He credited Vice President/Director of Athletics Kortne Gosha and his staff for their fundraising and facility upgrades throughout the year.
Robinson also stated there’s a 30%-40% loss in revenue due to the lack of a football season.
The athletics department didn’t have any layoffs. However, there was a mandatory pay cut in salary for full-time employees. Additionally, the hiring freeze is still in place except for essential positions.
Free COVID-19 Testing at Bragg Memorial Stadium
Bragg Memorial Stadium isn’t completely dormant this fall. FAMU’s legendary football venue serves as a free COVID-19 testing site. The stadium has performed this act since April.
People from across the Panhandle, south Georgia and southeast Alabama have been administered tests at Bragg. The collection of workers is a joint venture with the Florida Department of Health, Bond Community Health Center and FAMU medical personnel.
Robinson praises the humanitarian efforts of essential medical staffers. He also recognizes the inequality when it comes to health care across race and economic lines.
“Not only is this virus evil, but there’s a disparity in terms of the impact on communities of African-Americans and Hispanics. It also hurts people with underlying conditions,” Robinsons said.
“FAMU’s location was ideally suited for a community-based COVID-19 testing site. So many people in those demographics are in our midst. Having this on our campus has been a Godsend.”
In October, FAMU announced it will be receiving $1.5 million over the next three years from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. This is one of the world’s largest investors in COVID-19 research.
The money will be used to hire staff and operate a hub at its Center for Viticulture & Small Fruit Research at 6361 Mahan Drive.
Representatives from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation said $15 million is being invested over the next three years for historically Black colleges and universities.
This provides rapid COVID-19 testing for students, faculty and staff. It also allows for processing test specimens submitted from other HBCUs across the country.
Bragg Memorial Stadium Upgrades
In September, local government officials confirmed Bragg Memorial Stadium will receive $10 million from the Blueprint Intergovernmental Agency (IA) for long-overdue renovations.
Initially, this money was destined for a convention center on Florida State’s campus.
“I want to thank the Blueprint Intergovernmental Agency for making this $10 million invest in Bragg Memorial Stadium’s Renaissance Project,” Robinsons said.
“We’re working through an official memorandum of understanding. We’ll decide how the money will be assigned and transferred.”
Robinson confirmed the work will be done in phases beginning this winter. The major items include changes to the restrooms, elevator and external infrastructure. Contractors will be doing some projects during the fall football season.
However, Robinson said it won’t be the “structural work.” Overall tasks are scheduled to take place throughout the 2021 calendar year.
FAMU’s president also stated additional funding will come from a six-figure internal loan. This is being done to stay on schedule for start and completion.
“We’ve made some internal investments. We need to get the first phase done by the fall 2021 semester. We’ll be borrowing from ourselves in one of the athletic accounts in the FAMU Foundation somewhere around $100,000. We envision the timeline for money to be transferred by the end of the year or early part of next year,” Robinson said.
Moving the SWAC/2021 Outlook
After decades of membership in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference, FAMU will join the Southwestern Athletic Conference beginning in the fall of 2021.
Robinson loves the idea of having conference rivalries with famed programs such as Southern, Grambling State and Jackson State. He also looks forward to a reduced travel time and expenses.
WATCH: Rattlers wide receiver Xavier Smith recaps the game-winning catch and his performance vs Southern.
Like so many fans, he is eager to see the Rattlers face Jackson State in the Orange Blossom Classic to open the fall season. This game takes place Labor Day weekend at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens.
“I’ve already been told that the first game in Miami Gardens that hotel rooms are already sold out. We’re playing Jackson State and everybody knows Deion Sanders is the head coach. You can’t ask for a better start. I think the eyes of the nation will be on that game,” he said.
The current climate at FAMU is hard for the Rattlers. However, Robinson remains optimistic for the future. He encourages alumni to support the school through funding. More importantly, he wants for a national recovery from a physical health standpoint.
Robinson reminds all Rattlers that the fortitude of FAMU remains intact. He is working hard to keep the university moving forward in spite of the pandemic.
“I’m always hopeful. COVID-19 is no joke. It’s taken the lives of hundreds of thousands of people. We’ve seen other hardships in our 133 years. We got through those and we’ll get through this,” he said.
Follow FAMU beat writer Rory Sharrock on Twitter @rattlernews and @married2game1.
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