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‘No one can predict right now what the fall will look like, in my opinion,’ Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott says

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FILE - In this Oct. 8, 2019, file photo, commissioner Larry Scott speaks during the Pac-12 NCAA college basketball media day, in San Francisco. The commissioners of the Atlantic Coast Conference, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-12 and Southeastern Conference say they have been in almost constant contact since the NCAA men’s basketball tournament was canceled on March 12.“ Based on the very positive and close collaboration among the leaders in college football and discussions with schools, other leagues and the medical community, at this point in time we are planning to start the football season on time and together on a national basis,” Pac-12 Commissioner Larry Scott said.

D. Ross Cameron, AP

SALT LAKE CITY — Since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic, Andy Katz, a digital reporter, analyst and host for March Madness, the March Madness 365 podcast, NCAA.com, the Big Ten Network and Fox Sports, has hosted a weekly show — The NCAA Social Series.

The latest guests hit close to home for west coast sports fans, as Katz talked with Pac-12 Commissioner Larry Scott and NCAA Chief Medical Officer Dr. Brian Hainline.

Here are a few of the topics discussed, with responses from both Scott and Hainline.

Now that some universities — USC in particular — have announced they are shifting to mostly online classes, what will the impact be on fall sports, notably college football?

Larry Scott: This is a very dynamic situation and we are going to have to be flexible. We have tried to be careful to not make decisions to get locked in earlier than we need to. We are learning a lot quickly and (the situation) is rapidly changing. The window has narrowed at both USC and UCLA as far as the cohort of students who will be on campus. They’ve limited the students who will be on campus, except for those who have a good reason to be there. There are many students who work in labs or are doing research or are in the performing arts who need to have hands-on experiences who will be on campus... I think that leaves open the window for student-athletes if we decide to proceed.

How have you managed the roller coaster-like effect that COVID-19 has had on Pac-12 universities, especially Arizona and ASU of late?

LS: It is hard. It is hard intellectually and emotionally. It is (a) very dynamic and fast changing situation that underscores the need to be flexible, nimble and not get locked into any one position. We have to keep learning until the latest point when we have to make a decision one way or the other. We are trying to take baby steps and we are learning a lot as we have student-athletes coming back for workouts. Frankly, our campuses have been learning a lot. What we thought was the narrative a month ago is now very different and we’ve been reminded to stay flexible. No one can predict right now what the fall will look like, in my opinion.

How has the return of student-athletes to campuses across the country gone thus far?

Brian Hainline: One part of the process is working. As the athletes return, they are being tested, we’re identifying positive cases and they are being placed in appropriate isolation. What has happened is really to be expected... The issue going forward is new cases and how do we continue to assess that situation and monitor it? We are at the easy part right now, where athletes are relatively isolated in voluntary workouts. They can really physically distance and wear a mask. This part of it is working out OK in the setting of the country worsening in many areas. When we get to more interaction-type exercises, we will understand even more if this is working. We have to pay careful attention, and not just to athletes, but to all students on campus. If the local infrastructure can’t handle a surge, we will have to reconsider things.

What are the chances that other fall sports, such as soccer, indoor volleyball, cross country, etc. will have seasons, with or without football happening this fall?

BH: I think that is a possibility. That is something that will play out within conferences and even certain member schools. Football, we are paying a lot of attention to that, especially at the FBS level, but I think this will vary across membership, depending on where you are in the country and what you can afford financially. A lot of it will be a conference-by-conference decision.

LS: It is my personal observation that our ability to play sports in the fall will have less to do with sport-by-sport consideration... The really open question is about whether limited contact in sports will transmit the infection, or if it is sustained contact that transmits the virus, and I think it is still up in the air about how risky it is with contact sports. Our ability to play sports in the fall will have more to do with macro elements and behavior in our society. What happens when thousands of young people come back to our campuses? What will happen with the spread of the virus? What will be the impact on health services? Right now, the early indications are concerning. What we’ve seen in the last few weeks gives us reason to be concerned that when campuses open up there could be spikes that put pressure on health care systems, and from my perspective that is really the biggest risk to college sports in the fall, be it football, soccer or volleyball.

What are the chances of conference-only competition, regardless of sport?

LS: We have been working toward being able to play full schedules in the fall. As part of that, we have been working toward an agreement with all the teams we play in the non-conference on common testing standards, testing before each game so that we could be comfortable with non-conference play. Having said that, there has been a lot of work done on a conference-only schedule, an abbreviated schedule, a postponed schedule, maybe even a spring schedule. All of those have challenges, but I am pretty confident we can come to an agreement with all the schools we play in football on a testing standard that would give us trust and confidence. But, there could be other reasons why we can’t play a full season, or we can’t start in August.

What are you hearing about the various scenarios, whether starting on time, starting later, a gap in the middle or a winter start?

BH: We have had all of those conversations, but this virus is so unpredictable that to say ‘Let’s start in January’ makes no more sense than saying ‘Let’s start now.’ We have no idea what the future holds. We have to look at what we can control and we can still plan on a fall season. Doesn’t mean that is what is going to happen, but that is the way we should be going.

Where do you stand on waivers and scholarship protections for student-athletes who don’t feel comfortable competing during the pandemic?

LS: As a general principle, our schools unequivocally want to protect and support the student-athletes’ scholarship if they have a health concern given the current crisis. How that is managed on the individual campuses is up to the universities, but student-athletes need to know that they are protected, that their scholarships are protected.

How realistic is the idea of having fans in the stands?

LS: As a society and a college sports community, this is a great social experiment and challenge. The ability for us to play college football in the fall, and for fans to be able to attend, is going to be heavily dependent on how our society reacts to this grand challenge that we have. Can we adjust our behavior and sense of social responsibility quickly to a level we haven’t seen the last couple of weeks? If people keep congregating without masks and we keep having these spreads, we are not going to be playing college sports this fall. We need a quick pivot and an enhanced sense of responsibility.