Five of the 12 schools in the Pac-12 expect to reopen their campuses this fall, a key step to the return of college sports.
Many more steps still need to be taken before football or any other sport is going to played in 2020 as the world copes with the coronavirus pandemic. The football season begins Aug. 29 with a slate of games that include three Pac-12 schools.
Both Arizona schools, both Washington schools and Oregon anticipate holding in-person classes in the fall, but that leaves seven others still mulling whether to follow suit or continue holding online classes.
“Given the realities of the COVID-19 crisis and the fact that there are numerous variables outside of our control, it is unlikely that our fall quarter will look just like last fall,” Oregon President Michael Schill said. “But I am committed to doing everything in my power to enable us to return to the type of residential university that is so special for all of us.”
The Pac-12 schools hoping to return to in-person classes this fall plan to put social distancing measures in place, including limited class sizes and extra spacing between seats in classrooms.
Colleges and universities have faced many of the same struggles as states in weighing public safety against reopening campuses for tens of thousands of students. Every state in the Pac-12 footprint has begun easing stay-at-home orders to varying degrees.
The next few weeks will likely determine whether those measures have worked, which will impact whether in-person classes can resume this fall — a key step needed for any sports to be played.
“If it gets to the point that football players can come back … and come back for training camp and start practicing and getting ready for the season, it will only be if it’s safe for students to be back on campus,” Pac-12 Commissioner Larry Scott said in a Zoom interview with LightShed Partners last month.
The NCAA has laid out guidelines for sports to return and one of the first steps is getting students back in school. NCAA chief medical officer Dr. Brian Hainline said widespread testing will be crucial, particularly in contact sports like football and basketball.
“It’s not going to be risk-free, that’s for sure,” Hainline said. “If this is rolled out in stages and reasonably, we’re really paying attention to proper surveillance and we get the tests available, I think we can have fall sports.”
Colleges and universities are facing big losses and the cancellation of the NCAA Tournament led to a $375 million shortfall in money that would have been distributed to member schools. Cutbacks are already being made, including reducing coaches’ salaries, furloughing athletic department staffers and even cutting sports at some smaller schools.
Football is by far the largest revenue producer for most schools.
“We’re hoping for a full football season,” Utah athletic director Mike Harlan said last weekend. “We’re positive in that regard knowing that we have to be realistic, too. So as we look at our budget, our primary focus will always be making sure our student-athletes have what they need to succeed in all regards.”