Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott said Thursday that the conference is prepared to pivot quickly to alternate football scenarios in the event a 12-game regular season cannot start on time because of the coronavirus surge.
That possibility seemingly is growing more real by the week.
“I was cautiously optimistic … but the last couple weeks have changed everyone’s outlook because of the extent to which restarting the economy and loosening restrictions has led to significant outbreaks,” Scott told the Hotline.
“I still want to be cautiously optimistic, but if there’s no change in society’s response and behavior, which results in a quick flattening of the curve and a decrease in the spread of the virus, that would lead to a much more pessimistic view about our campuses being able to open and our ability to play college sports.”
Scott speaks “practically every morning” with other Power Five commissioners and indicated the conferences have remained aligned in their outlooks and planning for the fall.
Thus far, the Power Five has declined to place a “hard and fast deadline” for a decision on the regular season.
“It could be in the next week that we make a clear pivot, or three weeks from now — either individual schools, conferences or the collective,” Scott said.
“Or we could keep putting one foot in front of the other and things start to look better.”
The Pac-12 has modeled what Scott described as “very solid scenarios” for the season, including:
— Playing all 12 games as scheduled
— A delayed start
— Conference-only schedules
— Moving the season to the spring
“We could turn on a dime because of all the legwork we’ve put in,” Scott said, adding that other Power Five conference are having similar conversations internally.
And yes, there have been discussions at the highest levels of Pac-12 power — among the presidents and chancellors — about the potential for some teams to compete this fall and some to shut down.
“There are scenarios where we move as a conference together,” Scott said, “and scenarios where not everyone can but most can.
“To be clear, I’m not saying we would go in that direction. I just want to underscore that we’re looking at everything.”
Ultimately, the decision hinges on the broader state of affairs on campus.
The Pac-12 has maintained throughout the sports shutdown that it would only field football teams in the fall if the campuses were deemed safe for student activity.
Scott’s cautious optimism in May was rooted in a series of announcements by Pac-12 presidents that they intended to open campus, with many using a hybrid model of in-person and online instruction.
But the coronavirus surges in Arizona and Southern California, in particular, have darkened the mood.
Arizona president Robert Robbins said last week that if current conditions persisted, he wouldn’t open campus for the fall.
On Monday, the Wildcats announced they had paused their football re-entry process — the only Pac-12 program thus far to suspend voluntary workouts.
The issue wasn’t an internal outbreak: Arizona has tested 83 athletes, with only one positive.
(Those results mirror data from other schools.)
Rather, Robbins was concerned about rising coronavirus prevalence in Pima County.
Unlike the NBA, college football programs cannot put their players in a bubble. The greatest risk lies away from football functions — when they are on campus and in the community.
“There is growing data that suggests playing sports may not be that risky, given what we see from European soccer and some studies,” Scott said.
“The much bigger issue is what the student athletes, and all students, are doing when they’re back on campus.”