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Pac-12 football: No games through September at the very least, Oregon governor says

Utah Utes wide receiver Samson Nacua (45) runs with the ball during a football game against the Oregon Ducks at Autzen Stadium in Eugene, Ore., on Saturday, Oct. 28, 2017. Utah lost 20-41.
Utah Utes wide receiver Samson Nacua (45) runs with the ball during a football game against the Oregon Ducks at Autzen Stadium in Eugene, Ore., on Saturday, Oct. 28, 2017. Utah lost 20-41.
Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — If Utah adopts a similar policy that Oregon just announced when it comes to large crowds, Rice-Eccles Stadium will be a quiet place during the BYU-Utah football game — if it even happens on Sept. 3.

The same scenario would play out nine days later when the Utes host Montana State, when BYU hosts Michigan State on Sept. 12, and when Washington State and Southern Utah visit Utah State on those respective dates.

That scenario: No events with large crowds until at least October because of the COVID-19 pandemic — or maybe no events at all.

Oregon Gov. Kate Brown announced this week that big groups of people shouldn’t gather — be it for sporting events, concerts, festivals, etc. — until a vaccine or other effective prevention and treatment for the coronavirus are available.

“There is some difficult news to share. Large gatherings, including live sporting events with audiences, concerts, festivals and conventions will not be able to return until we have a reliable treatment or prevention like a vaccine,” the governor said. “The Oregon Health Authority is advising that any large gathering, at least through September, should either be canceled or significantly modified. I know this is really, really hard.”

Oregon is scheduled to host North Dakota State, Ohio State and Hawaii in September, while Oregon State is set to play Colorado State, Portland State and Washington State in Corvallis.

Oregon’s health officer and epidemiologist told The Oregonian that its state officials are discussing which types of sporting events might be able to be played as society begins to get a better handle on the coronavirus. Noncontact sports like golf or tennis are likely to be the first to come back, Dr. Dean Sidelinger said. Other sports might take longer to return.

“For some of these other sports, basketball, football, and other things where there is more close contact, obviously there is more risk,” Sidelinger said. “So I think as we approach football season, we can see how the disease is behaving in our community, what kind of steps could be taken around the team themselves and the coaches and others around the team to see if they can safely start. But as you heard from the governor’s remarks, large gatherings will likely not be happening through the end of September. So if or when those activities resume, they would likely resume without the fans in the stands, but hopefully the fans watching them from a screen in the safety of their own home.”

The Oregon athletic department released a statement in which it said the Ducks will continue working with state and local officials, public health experts and campus leadership “in navigating all of the unprecedented issues surrounding COVID-19” and when sports will return.

“The health and safety of our student-athletes and community will continue to be our top priority,” the statement read.

Utah’s government and university officials have yet to publicly discuss specifics about the upcoming football season. The state did recently move to a moderate (orange) phase in its color-coded health guidance system that was created by the state to guide health behaviors for individuals and businesses.

Utah athletic director Mark Harlan recently told Dirk Facer of the Deseret News that he remains hopeful that football will happen this fall.

“I certainly remain positive that we can start football, but also realistic that we have to plan for various scenarios as they develop. Not speaking as a member of the (NCAA) football oversight committee but just as a director of athletics at a Pac-12 school, we’ll continue to work with our league to deal with the things as they come,” Harlan said.

“The first thing is just really working collectively to decide how many weeks it’s going to take for a student-athlete to be prepared to come back and compete, not just in football but in all of our fall sports and get collective agreement across our conference and the country in that regard. That’s the thing that’s right in front of us.”

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the leading public health expert on President Donald Trump’s coronavirus task force, recently told The New York Times that sports might not return for another year.

“If you can’t guarantee safety,” he said, “then unfortunately you’re going to have to bite the bullet and say, ‘We may have to go without this sport for this season.’”