July is typically when there is calm before the college football storm.
This year players are still conducting voluntary workouts on quiet campuses in preparation for the more rigorous fall camp practices looming.
However, a season-threatening storm — the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic — rages on with time quickly running out for decision makers to announce plans for safely executing a 2020 schedule.
Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott said recent spikes in positive cases within the conference footprint are concerning with less than eight weeks until members Arizona (vs. Hawaii), California (at UNLV) and UCLA (vs. New Mexico State) are scheduled to kick off the season on Aug. 29.
Scott said the Pac-12 has contingency plans in place, including playing a conference-only schedule or moving the season to the spring, if necessary.
“One of the threshold considerations we’ll have to make, as we think about fall sports coming up, is whether we stick with the traditional approach that we're either all moving forward together or none of us are moving forward together,” Scott said last Thursday during a panel discussion on the NCAA’s Twitter channel. “Whether that's within the league, within the FBS, Division I or whether this is such a unique situation, with really varied experiences and situations on our campuses, that there might be some where there's broad populations of students on our campuses and we can compete in college athletics and there might be some where we can’t.”
-19 – @pac12 commissioner Larry Scott and @NCAA CMO Dr. Hainline join @TheAndyKatz to assess what a return to campus/sporting events might look like as fall approaches. https://t.co/Kbwk1Olh27
Some professional sports leagues, including the NBA, WNBA, NHL and Major League Baseball are in the process of trying to complete their seasons under strict league-wide protocols.
There isn’t a college football commissioner to get all of the Power Five, Group of Five and FCS programs, which are fueled by amateur athletes, on the same page.
In the Pac-12, seven schools have reported coronavirus testing data and five schools, including Oregon, have chosen not share data specific to athletes.
Oregon’s athletic department communications department referred The Register-Guard’s request for player testing results to the university’s communications department, which responded with the following statement:
“Our general counsel and athletics department have considered the question of whether to report if a student athlete has tested positive for COVID-19. At this time, the UO will continue to treat all of our students in a consistent, confidential manner regardless of whether they are a student athlete or member of any other identifiable campus group or organization.
“The institution will always err to the highest extent possible on protecting the privacy of our students when it pertains to their personal health. We are fully coordinating with public health officials and providing all pertinent information necessary for treatment, contact tracing and other public health response needs and providing aggregated information to the public and media about positive cases.”
UO has reported 26 positive and presumptive positive COVID-19 cases for all students and employees. Many football players and some other athletes started returning to campus for voluntary workouts on June 15.
Arizona reported one positive test after bringing 83 football players back to campus. The school has halted the return of additional athletes due to a surge of positives in the state.
California (three positives), Colorado (four positives), Oregon State (one positive), USC (one positive), Washington (two positives) and Washington State (zero positives) have also released some data on athlete testing in recent weeks.
Arizona State, Stanford, UCLA and Utah have joined Oregon in opting to not release results.
Positive cases have been increasing nationally this summer. The death rate from coronavirus in the United State was 4.4% as of Monday, according to the John Hopkins University data.
“I think what we've seen over the last few weeks gives us reason to be concerned that when campuses open up, there could be real spikes and pressures on the health care system,” Scott said. “From my perspective, that's really the biggest risk to college sports in the fall.”
The defending Pac-12 champion Ducks, favored to win the conference again in 2020, are currently set to open the season against defending FCS champion North Dakota State on Sept. 5 at Autzen Stadium.
Oregon has not announced a plan outlining how many, if any, fans will be allowed to attend home games. The attractive slate includes marquee games against Ohio State, Arizona State, Stanford, USC and Washington.
Football generates over 70% of Oregon’s athletic department budget.
Pac-12 rival Washington recently announced an overall athletic department operating budget reduction of 15% for the fiscal year. The Huskies’ head coaches in all of the sports have agreed to minimum 5% pay reductions.
Oregon’s head coaches previously agreed to take 10% salary reductions and forego performance incentives in their contracts for the 2020-21 academic year, which will save the department about $1.1 million. Athletics director Rob Mullens previously took a 10% pay reduction.
At the conference level, Scott will take a 12% salary cut and his senior staffers will take 5-10% cuts though the fiscal year, according to San Jose Mercury News and Oregonian reports.
The Pac-12 has also tapped into its reserve fund to help mitigate the loss of approximately $15.5 million in revenue from the cancellation of NCAA tournaments.
The Ivy League, which plays at the FCS level, is expected to announce on Wednesday a plan to move its football season to the spring.
The NCAA does not control football, which means conferences will make their own decisions regarding the 2020 season.
Mandatory workouts are scheduled to begin July 13 and the NCAA has approved an extended six-week fall camp for football to begin July 24 to make up for lost spring practices.
Iowa State athletic director Jamie Pollard said the cancellation of the football season would be an “Ice Age” for most athletic departments.
Ready or not, winter is coming.
“These next few weeks are going to be a defining moment,” Scott said. “Unless we see a change in the trajectory of the spread of the virus and its impact pretty quickly, I think the situation’s a lot more perilous than it was a few weeks ago.”
Contact reporter Ryan Thorburn at firstname.lastname@example.org or 541-338-2330, and follow him on Twitter @By_RyanThorburn and Instagram @rg_ducksports. Want more stories like this? Subscribe to get unlimited access and support local journalism.