Pac-12 moving forward with cautious optimism

Commissioner Larry Scott said conference is ready to adjust plan if needed

UCLA Bruins running back Martell Irby (6) evades a tackle by Colorado Buffaloes linebacker Davion Taylor (20) during the second half of a NCAA football game at Rose Bowl in Pasadena, Calif. on Saturday November 2, 2019. UCLA Bruins defeated the Colorado Buffaloes 31-14. (Photo by Raul Romero Jr, Contributing Photographer)

After more than a dozen Miami Marlins tested positive for COVID-19, their Major League Baseball games were canceled for a week.

Multiple St. Louis Cardinals players have tested positive, causing a postponement of their games Friday and Saturday. As the coronavirus pandemic continues to impact the nation and the world, 16 MLB games had been postponed because of COVID-19 cases, as of Saturday morning.

The Pac-12 Conference is watching closely – not only to baseball, but to trends around the country.

On Friday, the conference unveiled a 10-game, conference-only model for the college football season. In addition, start dates for all fall sports were announced. It’s an optimistic plan, but the Pac-12 isn’t hiding from reality, either.

Asked how confident he is that the season will be played, Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott admitted, “I don’t know.”

Just a few weeks ago, the conference, and the entire college sports world, was hoping for a full-fledged fall sports season. Plan A was scrapped for Plan B, which is a conference-only model being adopted by many leagues around the country.

As the Pac-12 monitors the trends of the coronavirus, Scott said, “We intend to start on September 26, but we will be ready, as we’ve been all along, like we’ve already moved from Plan A to Plan B, to move to C, D and E, if necessary. We felt that we owe that to our student-athletes.”

There’s no question that playing a football season is vital to the survival of many college athletic programs.

“It is important to the revenues, there’s no question about that,” Arizona State athletic director Ray Anderson said.

Anderson, Scott and others on Friday’s conference call, however, made it clear that throughout the whole process of preparing for a potential season, they are making decisions with the health and safety of the students and staff as the top priority.

“Difficult situations bring out the worst in people and sometimes the best in people and a lot of what I’ve seen (in the Pac-12) has been the best of people,” Stanford head football coach David Shaw said. “On that (Pac-12 working) group, this has been: How can we return to sport in a way that makes it the best for the student-athletes to participate safely?

“Coming from different places and different situations on different campuses in different areas has been difficult, to a certain degree, but the mentality has been the same: How can we do what’s best for our student-athletes?”

In determining what is best, the Pac-12 discussions have involved school presidents and chancellors, athletic directors, coaches and even student-athletes. Most importantly, however, the discussions have included medical experts.

Dr. Doug Auckerman, from Oregon State, said each Pac-12 school agreed upon a standard protocol for bringing student-athletes back to campus and surveillance PCR tests used to diagnose COVID-19 are standardized around the conference. Each school is also doing contract tracing.

There is no standard number of positive tests that could lead to a shutdown of a team, however.

“It’s really challenging … because if you get a couple infections and they’re coming from different sources and they’re occurring within a day or two before the game, maybe you don’t really have control of the transmission of the virus in that instance and you need to take a pause,” Auckerman said. “Is it a couple cases early in the week and they’re both related and … you can contact trace back to where they were? That’s a much safer environment situation and you have control over the transmission of the virus. So it’s hard to come up with just an easy, quick number.”

As the Pac-12 aims to move forward, it is trying to keep the numbers as low as possible, and doing that requires following health guidelines established locally and nationally.

“In order for us to play this game that we love, we have to follow those,” Shaw said. “So it’s not about the politics, not about what’s on TV. I’ve tried to avoid that as much as possible. For our student-athletes, that’s not what is important. What’s important is what can we do for them to allow them to play this game that they love? We’re trying to set up the best possible scenario for that to happen.”

Whether fall sports actually happen at Colorado and around the Pac-12 remains to be seen. The conference has a plan, but, as Scott noted, “We also recognize that the best-laid plans may not come to fruition.

“There are many, many scenarios still on the table, but we felt it’s critical at this point to be able to give some clarity in our plan for student-athletes in our programs when we intend to play if the health conditions allow us to and if things taper off the way we’re hoping they will.”