The first game of the Jimmy Lake era at Washington will not feature the Michigan Wolverines.
The Big Ten Conference announced Thursday that if its member schools are able to participate in fall sports in 2020, those sports will adopt conference-only schedules — which means that Washington’s season opener against Michigan on Sept. 5 will no longer be played.
In a statement, UW athletic director Jen Cohen acknowledged the cancellation and added that efforts are being made to reschedule the game in the future.
“Our fans and football program have been looking forward to this game for several years, but we understand this decision was made due to the impact of COVID-19 and prioritizing the health and well-being of student-athletes,” Cohen said in the statement. “(Michigan AD) Warde (Manuel) and I are currently in the process of discussing details on a future return date and will provide updates as they become available.”
UW’s release added that “season ticket holders can expect to receive an update from the ticket office in the near future.”
The previously scheduled Sept. 5 game was the first of a home-and-home series that is scheduled to conclude in Ann Arbor, Michigan, in 2021. The Huskies have been notably seeking a Power Five nonconference opponent to complete their schedule in both 2022 and 2023. The Wolverines, meanwhile, have a completed schedule in 2022 but need to find a third nonconference opponent in 2023 — which would appear to present an obvious opportunity. They could also choose to buy out either Colorado State, Hawaii or UConn in 2022 to make room for UW.
The decision to cancel the Big Ten’s nonconference schedule was made “following many thoughtful conversations over several months,” according to a separate release. The Big Ten’s statement added that “by limiting competition to other Big Ten institutions, the Conference will have the greatest flexibility to adjust its own operations throughout the season and make quick decisions in real-time based on the most current evolving medical advice and the fluid nature of the pandemic.”
The Pac-12 Conference is also expected to pivot to a conference-only season in the coming days, according to a report from The Athletic.
Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott told the Bay Area News Group last week that “I was cautiously optimistic (about playing full football seasons) … 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.
“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.”
Several “very solid scenarios” for a Pac-12 football season that Scott outlined last week included playing all 12 games as scheduled, a delayed start, a conference-only schedule or a season in the spring.
Thursday’s Big Ten news arrived on the same day the Atlantic Coast Conference announced that all of its Olympic sports will delay fall competition until at least Sept. 1, as a response to the continued coronavirus threat. On Wednesday, the Ivy League confirmed that all of its fall sports will be canceled (though it’s possible some of those sports, like football, could be played next spring).
Elsewhere in the Pac-12, Oregon’s home game against Ohio State on Sept. 12 has been effectively eradicated as well.
The Michigan game was considered UW’s premier home showcase in the 2020 season. The Huskies are scheduled to meet high-profile opponents Oregon, Utah, USC, Washington State and Cal all on the road.
A complete cancellation of UW’s nonconference schedule would wipe out home games against Sacramento State on Sept. 12 and Utah State on Sept. 19. The Huskies’ other home games come against Oregon State on Oct. 10, Arizona on Oct. 23, Stanford on Nov. 7 and Colorado on Nov. 21.
Of course, any cancellation of games will be accompanied by severe financial implications. UW Athletics announced on June 26 that it plans to implement a 15% reduction in operating budget (roughly $8.5 million), and a 10% salary reduction for staff (roughly $5 million). All Husky head coaches have voluntarily agreed to a minimum 5% salary reduction, and assistant coaches and contract staff (including trainers, strength and conditioning and medical staff) have been asked to accept a voluntary minimum 3% pay cut.
All professional, classified and union staff members — which comprises 156 total employees, including UW’s associate athletics directors — will take temporary furloughs that will last between two and four weeks.
On May 13, Cohen and UW chief financial officer Kate Cullen presented a “best-case scenario” budget to the university’s board of regents that assumed all fall sports would be played with full fan attendance. And, even under those circumstances, the athletics department projected a financial year 2021 deficit of $9,912,000 — a number that would shrink to $1,602,696 after implementing “deficit mitigation plans.”
Now, the “best-case scenario” has officially been scrapped — and it’s unclear whether any college football will be played this fall.