As it presently stands, Nick Rolovich is scheduled to make his debut as Washington State’s head football coach on Sept. 3 in Logan, Utah.
“In my mind, I’m planning on playing Utah State in game one,” Rolovich said Monday. “I’m optimistic about going with the 12 (games) we’ve got, until they tell me differently.”
The COVID-19 pandemic could alter that plan, though, with Pac-12 and national discussion centering on numerous scenarios for the next college football season.
“I think where we are is the definition of a fluid situation,” Stanford head coach David Shaw said.
Rolovich, Shaw and Southern California head coach Clay Helton conducted a webinar with members of the media on Monday. It was the first of four webinars this week involving each Pac-12 head coach; Colorado’s Karl Dorrell will take part in Tuesday’s session.
Monday’s session was planned to focus on topics such as name, image and likeness, as well as the NCAA transfer rule. During the 31-minute session, those topics never came up as the discussion focused mainly on the uncertainty of the football season.
“There’s so many (scenarios), but the most important thing … what is the safest way to go about doing what we want to do?,” Shaw said. “We have to have processes that are vetted by our medical professionals and then we have to have contingency plans.
“The rapid diagnostic testing is something that’s going to be vital to us reincorporating people back into one, small area. If someone does test positive, we have to find out quickly and isolate it very quickly. Those things have to be in place before we can go to step two, but at the same time we have to talk about step one, step two, step three, step four in order to be ready for the eventuality of us getting back together.”
The health and safety of the student-athletes has been the top priority, Helton said. In one meeting, medical professionals spoke to the coaches.
“It was just an unbelievable wealth of knowledge that was being thrown at us,” Helton said. “It shows you how grand a scope and how big a project that this is going to be as we get back into that safe environment.”
Getting to that safe environment is going to be easier for some schools and states than others. For example, in Whitman County, where Washington State’s campus is located, there have been only 15 COVID-19 cases, with no deaths. In Los Angeles County, meanwhile, the death toll has surpassed 1,500.
NCAA president Mark Emmert said last week he doesn’t believe football and other sports will be played if campuses aren’t open. The varying degrees of COVID-19 cases creates difficulty in having a blanket policy, Shaw said.
“Every state is going to be different; every campus is going to be different,” Shaw said. “I think that’s a great sentiment (from Emmert), but I don’t know that that’s going to rule the day when it’s all said and done. I think the President of the United States is going to have a weigh-in, I think every state governor is going to have a weigh-in; I think every (university) president, provost and chancellor is going to have a weigh-in.”
While the coaches want to play football, they want it to be done when it’s safe to have the teams come together.
“In general, if we feel if it’s safe enough to play, I’d like to play,” Rolovich said.
How the season is played could be altered. There has been discussion about eliminating the non-conference games and going with a conference-only schedule.
“Those are viable discussions,” Helton said. “There’s a lot of unknown out there. I really think we’re going to get a lot clearer picture six to eight weeks from now.”
With different scenarios being discussed, the College Football Playoff could be altered. The CFP has had a four-team format since 2014 and is set to keep that format through 2026.
“There has been a lot of discussions about, for this year, do we expand the playoff because we’re not really going to know how to whittle this thing down to four,” Shaw said. “If we’re able to play 12 (games) and we’re able to stay status quo, that’s great. Many of us believe it’s not going to be 12 and it may not even start on time. Those other factors are going to affect how the bowl season looks, as well as the playoff.”
The coaches are hopeful and optimistic about the season being playing in some form, however.
“I think we’re all going to have a tremendous gratitude … to be able to play the game that we love,” Helton said, “and to feel fortunate enough that if we’re in that scenario that this virus and this crisis has been put a little bit further behind us.”
For now, a plethora of unknown factors has coaches in limbo, but Shaw said the Pac-12 is ready to react to the next steps.
“We’re in a good position right now to handle whatever happens, as far as what national and local governments say and all of our individual schools,” he said. “We’ve got a lot of bright guys with great ideas.”