The PAC-12 Conference announced on Tuesday their intention to delay all athletic competition through the end of the calendar year in an effort to keep student-athletes safe amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
A meeting was held on the morning of Aug. 11 by members of the PAC-12’s CEO Group, comprised of either a president or chancellor from each of the conference’s universities, who voted unanimously to postpone all official athletic competition through the end of 2020.
The meeting held by the PAC-12 CEO Group was inspired in part by growing concerns for the health and safety of the conference’s student-athletes after the PAC-12’s medical staff met with athletic directors from across the conference to express concerns about how playing a full-contact sport like football could lead to a continued increase in cases of COVID-19.
Larry Scott, the commissioner of the PAC-12 conference, expressed how the need for traveling across the country that goes along with college athletics influenced their decision to delay athletic competition until the ongoing outbreak is less prevalent.
“Unlike professional sports, college sports cannot operate in a bubble,” said Scott via an official statement from the conference. “Our athletics programs are a part of broader campuses in communities where in many cases the prevalence of COVID-19 is significant.”
While professional sports leagues like the National Women’s Soccer League, the National Basketball Association and the Women’s National Basketball Association have had minimal reported cases of COVID-19 while continuing their seasons in a singular, quarantined location, college athletics have required travel. Since student-athletes will need to be near their campuses to attend classes, one team would need to travel to meet another in order to play.
While the PAC-12 has been official on their stance to cancel all athletic play until the 2020 season, the date on which they plan to resume athletics remains undetermined. The conference has decided the absolute earliest they would like to pick up athletic competition would be Jan. 1, 2021.
The University of Oregon President and Chair of the PAC-12 CEO Group, Michael H. Schill, commented on how the vote came to pass, how they decided on the cancellation of athletics through 2020 and exactly what changed within the conference when only 11 days ago, the PAC-12 was releasing plans and schedules for a condensed football season that was set to begin on Sep. 26.
“We met with students, we met with our AD’s [Athletic Directors] constantly, with our coaches and medical advisory board, we listened to all of the views and we determined that there’s just too many questions. There’s just too much uncertainty now,” Schill said. “What we decided was, essentially what we would do is put a pause [on athletics] until 2021. And we’ll constantly be reassessing the data.”
A large part of the PAC-12’s decision to postpone athletics for the foreseeable future was guided by the advice of the conference’s medical advisory committee. One of the voices within the PAC-12's advisory committee is Oregon State’s Senior Associate Athletic Director for Sports Medicine, Doug Aukerman, who has been serving as the head of the conference medical advisory committee.
Aukerman, one of 24 members of that medical advisory board, decided alongside the rest of the board that it was in the best interest for the health and safety of the players and coaches to refrain from any athletic competition for the time being-- especially in regards to football.
“As we moved closer towards the date where we were to begin contact practice [for football], we were really concerned with a couple of items. One is, that, coronavirus is still very prevalent in many of our institutional communities,” Aukerman said. “The other issue is that there is some emerging data about some health risks that affect athletes, specifically with cardiac side-effects of potential COVID infections that we don’t know enough about.”
But while the conference has expressed interest in returning to play as soon as possible provided safe conditions have been met, the desired date to return to play of Jan.1, 2021 is not official. Even though athletic competition will not be in effect for the foreseeable future, Scott has stated that athletes on scholarship will continue to receive that funding, regardless of sport or university.
“The student-athletes that are going to be impacted by this, I want to be clear, are going to have their scholarships guaranteed,” Scott said via a streamed conference following the PAC-12’s press release. “We’re going to strongly encourage the NCAA to support that with some of their upcoming decisions as well when it comes to eligibility, time to complete degrees, and other related academic issues.”
Despite the PAC-12’s plan to continue providing support to their student-athletes, the delay of college athletics within the conference and the effects it brings are being felt by players in other ways. Members within the PAC-12’s universities have expressed their disappointment and sorrow for fans and players who were looking forward to the return of college athletics, as have former college athletes as well.
At Oregon State, the school's Vice President of University Relations and Marketing, Steve Clark, provided a statement expressing concern for the student-athletes and staff, as well as optimism that Oregon State Athletics will be able to come back strong in 2021.
“This was the right decision. The PAC-12 Conference, OSU President F. King Alexander and OSU Athletics appropriately prioritized the health and well-being of our student-athletes, coaches, staff and fans," Clark said. "We certainly can appreciate that the university community and Oregonians statewide may be disappointed there will be no intercollegiate sports to enjoy this fall. Yet, we are confident that fans will see that OSU’s young men and women student-athletes and coaches will bounce back and carry Beaver athletics to new heights of success as soon as public health measures allow in 2021.”
Among the former student-athletes feeling for Oregon State's current athletes is Yvenson Bernard, a former running back of the Oregon State football team from 2004 to 2007. Bernard, while understanding of the difficulty in keeping athletes safe during the ongoing pandemic, expressed his sadness for the players that would might miss out on the chance to play their sport.
“As a freshman, [there’s] a huge disappointment in not being able to roll and get the season going… you want to be part of the team, you want to start getting into the groove of things, learning the offense or defense and getting that college campus feel,” Bernard said. “As a senior, let’s say you had a decent junior year, but you didn’t have the junior year that you wanted, you’re looking forward to this senior year to be a big year where you can possibly get on the draft board or be a name or a highly talked about guy at your position. This is huge.”
With projected start dates for the football season to begin playing games expected to be around Spring 2021 at the earliest, Bernard also expressed concerns for senior student-athletes who may have to choose between preparing for their final college season or the NFL Draft.
“If I’m a senior and they’re pushing it [the college football season] back to the Spring, why would I play? If I had aspirations to go to the next level, I wouldn’t play. I would take the offseason to train,” Bernard said. “There’s just so many little things that factor into it [delaying the sports season].”
Bernard also expressed concern for what the delay of athletics all the way through to the 2020 season might mean for the university financially. Bernard, who worked for four years with the Oregon State University Foundation, has a sense for how damaging that much loss of revenue might be.
“From a business standpoint… this is crippling financially,” Bernard said. “You really have to feel bad for the administration. You gotta let people go, you gotta save money somewhere, and it’s gonna start from the administration level.”
The financial implications of the PAC-12’s delay on athletics remain to be seen, as does the exact timetable within the conference on when sports would officially return. At this point, the only certainty from the PAC-12 is that no sports will be played for the remainder of the 2020 calendar year.