Like athletic directors everywhere, Oregon’s Rob Mullens and his staff have created models upon models dealing with the reopening of the athletic department and what that could look like and when it could happen.
Of course, they’re all based on hypotheticals at the moment because it’s impossible to predict what will happen in the coming months when it comes to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Last week, Oregon Gov. Kate Brown announced she was discouraging large gatherings — including sporting events — through the end of September, which would have a direct impact on the college football season, as well as the Ducks’ other fall sports.
On Friday, however, a large portion of Lane County businesses were allowed to reopen with some limitations.
Speaking to the media during a Zoom call Friday afternoon, Mullens made it clear that when it comes to the football season, "Our goal is to play as many games as possible and we’d love to play all 12 because we have a very exciting schedule."
How that happens remains to be seen, Mullens said, "but my stance on this has been on health and safety of student-athletes, staff and fans first, second would be to play 12 games, and given that it’s only May 15, stay as flexible as possible as more information becomes available."
The Ducks are scheduled to open the football season at Autzen Stadium against North Dakota State on Sept. 5. One week later is the highly anticipated home game against Ohio State. Mullens said he has had recent conversations with Ohio State AD Gene Smith, though their talks have not been about moving the game to Columbus, where there could be less restrictions on sporting events come September.
"That specific topic has not been discussed," Mullens said. "We were just touching base and making sure we opened a line of communication as things evolve. But there have been no conversations about flipping it, no."
Playing football without fans inside Autzen Stadium or in limited numbers could be an option, and Mullens said they’re working on plans for both scenarios.
"We’re in the process of building a model of, what would a socially distanced Autzen Stadium look like? What would it mean to play games without fans?" he said. "We’re looking at all those things from both a financial impact standpoint as well as an execution standpoint."
Mullens addressed topics beyond football as well.
There has been no discussion of eliminating a sport at Oregon to help the athletic department survive the anticipated revenue shortfall from not having postseason basketball, spring sports or a potential disruption in the fall. "We’ve made a lot of other changes," Mullens said. "Cutting a sport is the last thing we’d ever want to do and we haven’t modeled that all the way out yet."
One of the cost-saving measures implemented is an across-the-board 10% salary reduction for every employee in the athletic department. All coaching contracts due to expire on June 30 have been renewed with the 10% cut written into the new contract.
The athletic department has determined it will cost approximately $525,000 to fund the return of all seniors who lost their seasons in the spring. They have since been granted an extra season of eligibility. "Our development team is going to try and raise that money to support those student athletes," Mullens said.
While the county has been given permission to start a Phase One re-opening, campus will remain closed through at least the end of spring term (mid-June). That includes weight rooms and other workout and training facilities for athletes.
In order to play games, athletes need practice, and that means different things for different sports. "A safe return to play is an absolute requirement," Mullens said. "Specifically to football, what we’ve been looking at is a minimum of six weeks. That hasn’t been finalized but in the discussions we’ve had everybody has kind of rallied around we need a minimum of six weeks to have a safe return to the sport of football."
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