Past disasters spawned an approach to higher education that could lead higher education through the current disaster … and create a path forward for college football in 2020.

The so-called “hybrid model” of teaching — a combination of in-person and online instruction — might allow campuses to open for business by eliminating large gatherings in lecture halls and thereby reducing the threat of coronavirus spread.

If the classrooms are deemed safe, even in a modified way, the locker rooms might be allowed to open.

Jon Wilner's Pac-12 Hotline is brought to The Seattle Times through a partnership with the Bay Area News Group. Wilner has been covering college athletics for decades and is a voter in the basketball and football AP polls, as well as the Heisman trophy. He shares his expert analysis and opinions on the conference for the Pac-12 Hotline.

The former doesn’t guarantee the latter, but it gives college sports a fighting chance this fall.

Conversely, closed classrooms (and dining halls and dorms) would ensure closed locker rooms.

“If the students, broadly, are not back on campus,’’ Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott told the Hotline recently, “I don’t imagine the student-athletes being back under any scenario.”

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The origin of the hybrid model is difficult to pinpoint, but it has been in use for years — a response to natural disasters and severe weather events that disrupted campus life.

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An article published three years ago by Inside Higher Ed noted that the model was used at Brookdale Community College in New Jersey following Hurricane Sandy (2012) and offered this context:

“As natural disasters have dominated headlines this summer, colleges and universities across the country are recognizing the value of hybrid course offerings, in which students split their time between face-to-face and online instruction.

“In some cases, instructors use hybrid courses to host traditional lecture and classroom discussions online and use more active forms of teaching in the classroom. Others offer lectures in class and assignments online.

“Officials and instructors describe numerous benefits to this model, which allows students to balance course work with other responsibilities while maintaining the most essential components of the residential experience.”

Applied today, the hybrid model would allow campuses to hold large lectures online, thereby reducing super-spreader events and protecting the faculty, which could be more at-risk than students because of the age-related impact of COVID-19. Smaller classes, group discussions and lab work could be held in-person.

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The approach is under discussion on numerous campuses within the Pac-12, including — crucially — California.

With its urban campus, an early start date (Aug. 26) and the strict shelter-in-place guidelines imposed across the Bay Area, Cal might be the trickiest situation in the Pac-12 — the greatest obstacle to a full complement of football teams whenever the season begins.

If Cal doesn’t open its classrooms and locker rooms, Stanford, a mere 45 miles away, might not either.

It’s unlikely one would deem campus life unsafe for students while the other barreled ahead as usual.

And if Cal doesn’t open its classrooms, and locker rooms, would UCLA?

The schools are part of the same system — a system managed by the University of California Office of the President.

“I think it’s fair to say none of our campuses will fully reopen,” UC president Janet Napolitano said recently.

But in that same discussion, with the Bay Area Council, Napolitano outlined plans to deploy the hybrid model:

“I think what some of our campuses are exploring is a mix, where there will be some material delivered in a classroom or lab setting, so-called wet labs, and other classes will continue to be online.”

That mix is the way out, so to speak, the key to opening the doors to create a hint of a semblance of normalcy that would allow sports to resume.