At the onset of the sports shutdown, Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott — after consultation with the presidents and chancellors — indicated that if classrooms couldn’t open in the fall, locker rooms wouldn’t open for the fall.
“If the students, broadly, are not back on campus,” Scott told the Hotline, “I don’t imagine the student-athletes being back under any scenario.”
So, um, err … what the heck happened?
In early July, USC recommended “all undergraduates take their courses online,” but football is planning for a season that suddenly appears manageable without Alabama and Notre Dame as bookend behemoths.
In mid-July, Cal announced the “fall semester will begin with fully remote instruction,” but workouts are proceeding for the Bears as thoughts of the North title dance in their heads.
And late last week, Washington State announced “all undergraduate courses at WSU Pullman will be delivered at a distance and will be completed remotely,” yet the Cougars are optimistic all their fall teams can compete.
Is the conference’s resolve to prioritize the health of the athletes weakening as the season approaches and the economic imperative of football take center stage?
“Obviously, you can get to it very logically: If you can’t have students on campus, or you’re not going to open your campus, how could you ever have athletics,’’ Arizona athletic director Dave Heeke told “Eye on the Ball,” a Tucson sports radio show, last week.
“And that makes logical sense. But all of the campuses want to open to some degree. They have certain areas that are already open.”
That’s the caveat.
That’s the cover for proceeding with summer workouts and planning for a September start to the Pac-12’s revised regular season.
The schools haven’t tossed their backbones into the moral abyss — at least not yet.
They can, to this point, justify the current athletic operations and strategy for the fall.
Yes, USC, Cal and Washington State have shifted from their original plans. And more schools — especially those on the semester schedule, with late-August start dates — could follow in coming weeks.
But even though the headlines indicate that fall instruction will be “remote only,” the campuses are not closed.
Student housing is open.
Certain facilities and academic buildings are open.
And there are students on campus who aren’t athletes.
According to an email to USC’s community, the school is currently “continuing with limited in-person, on-campus activity because we believe we can keep students, researchers, staff and faculty safe with our low-density plan.”
Arizona is doing the same.
“We have research and scientists that are on (campus),’’ Heeke said. “We have some grad students that are on campus. Our ROTC program is active at this point. And athletics.
“And really they’ve been test areas to see if can we accomplish this. In this COVID environment, can we operate? And I think we’ve all found across the country that in small groups, we can do that.”
For one of those “test areas,” we even have test results.
Seven of the 12 schools have released COVID-19 test data (for all athletes) since workouts began last month.
The publicly reported data …
USC: 437 total tests; seven positives
Arizona: 366 tests; three positives
Cal: 250 tests; eight positives
Washington State: 216 tests; three positives
Washington: 208 tests; six positives
Oregon State: 200+ tests; three positives
Stanford: 190 tests; four positives
Total: 1,867 reported tests; 34 positives
Percentage positive: 1.8.
(And yes, we’re assuming the schools are being truthful in their reporting. If you prefer a skeptical view, that’s perfectly understandable.)
As the Hotline has detailed, the more time spent on football, the better for health and safety.
The infection risk is higher outside the athletic facilities, away from team activities.
It’s higher in restaurants and bars, in residence hall lounges and, of course, on Greek Row.
The weight room isn’t the problem.
The world is the problem.
And that makes the next step all the more ominous: The return of students to campus next month (for the seven schools on the semester calendar).
“Campuses are starting to make that decision: Can we bring back 20, 30, 40, 50-thousand students?” Heeke said. “How do we live in a COVID environment with that many students?”
Some schools won’t have nearly that many students on campus.
But every school, it appears, will have some.
Again, the cover for proceeding with football is buried in the fine print of the plans for the fall:
— USC has recommend that “all undergraduates take their courses online.”
But at the same time, the Trojans “anticipate that 10-20 percent of our classes will be conducted in person, on campus. These will be primarily face-to-face labs, studios, performance and other courses involving hands-on work, and independent research studies that require facilities and equipment only available on campus.”
— Cal announced the “fall semester will begin with fully remote instruction.”
But regarding athletics, the university explained: “We anticipate athletic activities to proceed in accordance with current protocols and in compliance with the Berkeley Public Health Order. Campus remains open, including student housing.”
— Washington State announced “all undergraduate courses at WSU Pullman will be delivered at a distance and will be completed remotely.”
But the university is making “extremely limited exceptions for in‑person instruction,” and campus housing is open “for those students who have a demonstrated institutional need and are approved to live on campus.”
Also, WSU indicated “recreation and other community-building centers and activities will remain operational with limited in‑person services.”
So yes, exceptions have been made for certain cohorts and academic pursuits, and housing remains open.
No campus has closed.
Athletes aren’t the only students on the grounds.
That’s enough to justify football, for now.