The Pac-12 has suffered numerous self-inflicted wounds over the years. Last week, the conference was the subject of a media — and social media — bludgeoning through no fault of its own.
Two pieces of news, or quasi-news, conspired to darken the narrative:
A report that Los Angeles County would maintain stay-at-home order for three months; and the California State University’s announcement that it would move to online-only classes in the fall.
Instantly, speculation began to swirl …
No way the Pac-12 could play in 2020.
There’s the Pac-12, getting left behind again.
Pac-12 rosters will be gutted by transfers.
The shift to a Power Four has begun.
In reality, neither development meant doom, half-doom or quarter-doom for the Pac-12:
L.A. County health officials quickly clarified the comments and said restrictions would gradually ease, while decisions by the CSU have no bearing on the conference’s two UC campuses, in Berkeley and L.A.
Truth is, the outlook for Pac-12 football in 2020 is actually quite bright at the moment, given where it could be.
If, in early April, you had mapped out a best-case scenario for the conference by the middle of May, it would look exactly as it does:
— The campuses are planning to open in the fall.
— The presidents and chancellors are saying all the right things.
— The schools are exploring ways to make the stadium experience safe.
— There is an emphasis on acquiring the testing and tracing capacity needed for academic and athletic life to commence with a new normal.
— The athletic directors are considering schedule contingencies upon schedule contingencies in order to ensure there is a season.
“Our full intention is to have competition in the fall for football,” Arizona athletic director Dave Heeke told reporters last week. “We are taking those steps to ready for that to bring our players back.”
He could have been speaking for the other 11.
At this point, they are all in … all of them.
State restrictions in Oregon, Washington and California have generated attention, but no one has said campuses will be closed or that college football won’t be played.
The comments by governors, with Oregon’s Kate Brown being the latest, have focused not on the competition itself but on the spectator component. And yes, some stadiums could be empty.
But as the situation stands today — three months from the start of the fall semester — the campuses are preparing to open and the conference is preparing to play.
The economic impact of staying closed and not playing is too great.
After all, the calculation involves risk exposure and mitigation efforts.
The health of the students is essential, of course, but schools believe they can implement measures to keep the students safe.
The greatest downside risks for the universities, one could argue, are the health of the faculty and the state of the budget.
The Hotline plowed through the data available from numerous resources and uncovered five potentially significant numbers that could help frame the decisions.
Here we go:
300: Millions of dollars the schools stand to lose, on average, if students are not on campus this fall.
That figure, an approximation, was taken from published estimates provided by Colorado, Arizona, Cal and Stanford.
Stay closed, and it’s economic catastrophe — perhaps for years to come.
21,021: Covid-19 deaths nationally for ages 45-74, according to the Centers for Disease Control (through May 9).
Which campus cohorts fall into that age range? The faculty … and the coaches … oh, and don’t forget the officials.
Schools must find a way to protect the faculty — eliminating large lectures is one step — while the coaches and officials will need safeguards, as well.
But those issues aren’t insurmountable, not by any stretch.
80: Percentage of athletic department revenue that can be attributed to football.
While the exact number varies by the school, use this as a framework:
For a typical department generating $100 million in annual revenue, $30 million comes from football-related media deals, $20 million to $25 million comes from football ticket sales, and another $25 million to $30 million comes from football-related donations.
If there’s no football, it’s devastation for certain Olympic sports and for hundreds of across the conference.
1: Number of outdoor outbreaks of coronavirus in a large-scale study of transmission by researchers in Hong Kong.
After examining thousands of cases in China, they found a single example of transmission outside:
“Our study does not rule out outdoor transmission of the virus. However, among our 7,324 identified cases in China with sufficient descriptions, only one outdoor outbreak involving two cases occurred in a village in Shangqiu, Henan.”
That’s encouraging for football games, and practice.
0: Number of Covid-19 deaths reported by the CDC for ages 15-24 in the states of Arizona, California, Colorado, Oregon, Utah and Washington (through May 9).
That’s right: Not a single reported death in the Pac-12 footprint for people of college age.
(The CDC does not provide an option to narrow the range to 18-22.)
Does that mean no one of college age has died from Covid-19 in the six states?
No, because reporting methods aren’t airtight and the definition of a Covid-19 death isn’t consistent across states and counties.
But even with some margin-for-error baked into the calculation for universities, the data points to a low fatality risk for students.
(The numbers seemingly would become more favorable if students with underlying health concerns are given extra protection.)
That’s the framework, it seems:
The economic risks indicate the campuses must open and the teams must play.
Protect the most vulnerable cohorts, and the public health component might be manageable if the testing and tracing pieces are in place.
In that regard, the Pac-12 is no different than its Power Five peers.