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Rooney: Pac-12 dysfunction adding further drama to unprecedented year

League decision on football, possibly basketball, arrives Thursday

TEMPE, AZ – DECEMBER 07: Pac-12 Commissioner, Larry Scott speaks at a press conference before the Pac 12 Championship game between the Arizona State Sun Devils and the Stanford Cardinal at Sun Devil Stadium on December 7, 2013 in Tempe, Arizona. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

What in the name of Mount Sanitas is going on with the Pac-12?

Yet another wild week of news ended with the Pac-12 still in a holding pattern, remaining on college football’s sideline while the Big Ten began ramping up its dormant football machine to take part in the fall season.

The indecisiveness could very well haunt a league that already has fallen behind its Power 5 peers.

On Friday, the Pac-12 CEO group comprised of university chancellors and presidents met to discuss a possible return to play after announcing on Aug. 11 that the league would shelve all athletic competition until at least Jan. 1. Unable to come up with a solution, the group punted its decision until Thursday.

Even if the Pac-12 returns to play by Halloween, a target that looks even less likely after failing to come to a consensus on Friday, the indecision and lack of foresight will only further set the Pac-12 behind its national competition.

Since the Pac-12’s August announcement delaying all athletic competition until 2021, this little corner of the sports writing world has applauded the decision repeatedly. I stand by that. It was refreshing to see a big-time college athletics conference refuse to bow to either political or financial pressure, and instead make a tough decision based on protecting the health of its athletes.

Nevertheless, applauding that decision doesn’t mean the Pac-12 shouldn’t suit up once again if circumstances surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic, particularly with testing abilities, changes. It has, with Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott announcing a partnership with Quidel Corporation on Sept. 3 that he termed was a “game changer” in terms of getting the conference teams back in action thanks to daily testing procedures.

If that announcement was supposed to lead to a new blueprint for how to get teams back on the field, there has been little to no follow-up in the two weeks since. (The Oregonian’s John Canzano wrote a great column on this lack of action earlier this week.) The hesitation since what was supposed to be a development that would open the door to a return to play has only turned into a further indictment of Scott’s scattershot leadership.

While the move to postpone all fall sports was reasonable, even commendable, from a health and safety standpoint, the continued waffling is doing a huge disservice to the very same athletes the league originally was attempting to protect. Players have opted out, though they always can opt back in. Some have declared for the draft, which may or may not allow for a return to their teams depending on what the NCAA ultimately declares about such situations. Others have transferred, permanently altering the Pac-12 teams that may soon have to scramble to get back up to game speed.

Granted, the nuances of the Pac-12’s situation —  from the wildfires ravaging the West Coast to local health guidelines in play in California and Oregon — is delicate for a number of reasons. Yet the idea the CEO group needs another full week to come to a decision on what to do next, more than two weeks after the “game changing” Quidel testing announcement, reeks of dysfunction.

The silver lining of the mess is that the Pac-12 still has a chance to forge forward with a unified plan to resume basketball with the rest of the nation on Nov. 25, another development that may emerge from the Thursday CEO meeting. While the Pac-12 may lack a bona fide national title contender in men’s basketball the way Oregon is in football, the league nonetheless has a chance to match the conference-record seven entrants into the NCAA Tournament it set in 2016.

After missing out on the 2020 NCAA Tournament, and likely out of the equation for the College Football Playoff, missing the boat on the 2020-21 basketball season is something the Pac-12 can ill afford.