Only two weeks ago, Rob Mullens was celebrating another Pac-12 championship in an arena crowded with Duck fans.
Now Oregon’s athletic director is practicing social distancing while planning for an uncertain future in the wake of COVID-19.
"It was a blur," Mullens said during a recent interview with The Register-Guard. "Every day felt like a week because there was so much information and so many changes happening."
On March 8, Mullens watched Kelly Graves and his talented team cut down the nets after pummeling Stanford 89-56 in the Pac-12 women’s tournament title game in Las Vegas.
About 30 minutes before the opening tip, Larry Scott noted that the conference was keeping an eye on the growing coronavirus concerns. In the moment, the Pac-12 commissioner was hopeful Oregon and other top seeds would still be able to host postseason games.
"It’s an evolving situation every day," Scott said. "There’s new guidance. There’s new policies that our schools have. We’re trying to calibrate that as best we can to follow what public health officials are recommending, but understanding the importance of these events to our student-athletes and to our schools, as well.
"So I don’t think I can really predict exactly what’s going to happen too far into the future, except to say at the moment, from a Pac-12 perspective, we are planning on the men’s basketball tournament taking place as contemplated, and the same is true as of this morning in our communication with the NCAA. They’re planning on each of the events in each of the venues."
Mullens, who was back in Eugene at the office conducting business as usual by March 9, returned to the airport on March 11 to catch another flight to Las Vegas for the men’s Pac-12 tournament.
That was the night Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert became the first NBA player to test positive for coronavirus, a tipping point for the sports world.
"That's when it kind of all started to happen," Mullens said. "I had to delay my departure from Eugene as things were starting to happen on campus and some announcements were being made."
Mullens arrived in Las Vegas late on March 11.
At that point, the NCAA was still planning to conduct its tournaments without fans, and Dana Altman’s top-seeded Ducks were preparing to play Civil War rival Oregon State in the conference tournament quarterfinals on March 12 at T-Mobile Arena.
"The morning was just crazy with the rapid change of everything that was happening so fast," Mullens said.
Altman and his players were eating breakfast when they received word that the Pac-12 decided to pull the plug on its men’s tournament.
The NCAA later announced its men’s and women’s tournaments would also be canceled, as well as all other remaining winter and spring championships.
"With all the money that’s generated with that (television) contract … they didn’t give it up lightly," Altman said of the NCAA’s decision to break the 2020 March Madness brackets. "I’m sure they went through every possible contingency plan, just whatever they could do. It just wasn’t going to work.
"We just have to trust people in decision making positions."
The NCAA depends on the men’s basketball tournament for nearly all of its $1.1 billion in normal annual revenue.
During the fiscal year ending Aug. 31, 2020, the NCAA had been scheduled to collect $827 million from its long-term multimedia and marketing rights agreement with CBS and Turner.
According to USA Today, the NCAA has $250 to $275 million in business-interruption insurance connected to the tournament, but it is uncertain how quickly the money will be available or how much will be available.
Athletic directors are anticipating a reduction of the NCAA’s scheduled distribution of $600 million to Division I schools and conferences this spring.
Oregon’s athletic department received $2.1 million in NCAA distributions during the previous fiscal year that ended June 30, 2019.
"We're just starting to get our arms around some of that, but it’s very preliminary," Mullens said of the economic impact of the coronavrius. "Obviously the impact that canceling the NCAA men's basketball tournament will have, because that's a key source of revenue for us, we’re in conversations with the Pac-12 leadership about what the potential impacts could be canceling the spring competitions, as well as the men's basketball tournament.
"So, it is early on. There will be an impact. It will likely to be significant, but we're in the process of assessing that right now."
Mullens participated in meetings in Las Vegas during the chaotic day of cancellations. Then he returned to Eugene to make sure Oregon’s athletic department is supporting its coaches, players and staff during the global pandemic.
Mario Cristobal’s football team practiced for the final time this spring on the morning of March 12 before Justin Herbert and other NFL draft hopefuls worked out for scouts that afternoon in the Moshofsky Center.
The university announced Thursday it would not hold in-person commencement ceremonies this year, and all spring term classes will be done remotely.
Oregon’s annual spring game was officially canceled on Friday.
Mullens and his staff have "upgraded their IT skills" while adapting to working remotely and communicating via video conferencing.
Oregon’s athletic department has been working closely with the campus leadership, the Oregon Health Authority and Lane County Public Health in an effort to keep the Ducks flock safe.
"I'm so proud of how this organization — the leadership, the student-athletes, the coaches, the staff — have really come together to make sure that we're supporting one another," Mullens said. "We're supporting the campus with community safety at the forefront. We’re in a new environment. …
"It's just kind of all hands on deck to support the community. I’m really proud of how our organization is adapting on the fly. And things are changing by the hour."
Contact reporter Ryan Thorburn at firstname.lastname@example.org or 541-338-2330, and follow him on Twitter @RGDuckFootball and Instagram @rg_ducksports. Want more stories like this? Subscribe to get unlimited access and support local journalism.