Rooney: Waiting game running out of time for NCAA fall sports

Big decision by NCAA Board of Governors looming Aug. 4

Raul Romero Jr./For
The Pac-12 Conference appears ready to roll the dice on a 10-game football schedule, but decisions on other fall sports lie in the hands of the NCAA Board of Governors.

Whether the world is ready for it or not, it appears Pac-12 Conference football is charging forward with a plan for fall football.

The COVID-19 pandemic is nowhere near contained. Public health matters are far more tenuous than in March, when the coronavirus outbreak was deemed dangerous enough to cancel the NCAA basketball tournaments along with the entire slate of spring sport athletics.

But football is football, and apparently the show must go on. More importantly to athletic departments and the universities in which they operate, the TV bucks, at the very least, have to keep flowing. Hence, the Pac-12’s brave, and certainly fragile, plan to forge ahead.

This past week, the Pac-12 Hotline produced by Jon Wilner of the San Jose Mercury News reported the league is on the verge — possibly as soon as this upcoming week — of announcing its plan for a 10-game, conference-only football schedule. It is a bold plan, and one that can will remain fluid until the day the Colorado Buffaloes finally line up for the opening kickoff of the 2020 season. (According to a report Friday by The Stadium, CU’s extra date would be a road game at Oregon State).

Unless the NCAA Board of Governors steps in with a unified plan for college football, each league will be on its own to develop a plan to play. It’s almost like the adage of not retiring from the playing field until someone takes the jersey off and forces you to the sideline. The Pac-12 is going to plan for the fall until someone tells the league not to. A spring schedule won’t be discussed until its necessary.

On Friday, the Board of Governors opted to kick the can down the road two weeks before making any decision regarding fall sports. That group, comprised largely of university presidents from across the NCAA’s three divisions, has the authority to pull the plug on all fall championships at all levels. The lone, and glaring, exception is FBS football, which has a postseason run by the bowls and the College Football Playoff.

Caught in the middle of this waiting game, as usual, are thousands of student-athletes left to wonder about seasons that remain in indefinite limbo. At Colorado, the official preseason workouts for football, volleyball, and soccer would be getting underway in the very near future under normal circumstances. In the Pac-12, the nonconference schedules for all those sports already have been canceled. What happens with the football season in the coming weeks ultimately will decide the rest.

Attempting to buy time is a commendable approach, and no one wants to cancel football prematurely. Yet at this point, the Pac-12 is putting all their eggs in a basket the league hopes won’t fall and crumble amid continuing outbreaks of COVID-19. In terms of keeping the virus contained during the voluntary summer workouts, the Pac-12 has indeed operated ahead of the national curve. Also according to the Pac-12 hotline, among schools that have reported virus testing results, the Pac-12 has witnessed positive results in just 1.8% of the tests (34 out of 1,867 tests).

That’s an encouraging base line to work with while playing the waiting game. It also will be one difficult, though certainly not impossible, to maintain as additional athletic personnel and students are slowly reintroduced to campus. This past week, CU men’s basketball coach Tad Boyle told that the college basketball world is watching carefully how the NBA bubble works out as the league attempts to resume its season. Yet reproducing that sort of bubble on college campuses is virtually impossible. And any attempt to play college football this fall also will likely require all sports to take a chance at playing their seasons. To send FBS-level players to the field while sidelining everyone else would only embolden the argument that football and basketball players are amateurs in name only.

Aug. 4 is the next scheduled meeting of the NCAA Board of Governors. It will be decision time, as the clock eventually will run out the waiting game.