SALT LAKE CITY — Speculation became reality Tuesday when the Pac-12 pulled the plug on football and all sports competitions through the end of the calendar year. The conference’s CEO Group, comprised of school presidents and chancellors, made the unanimous decision in the wake of continued medical advice concerning the coronavirus pandemic.
“The health, safety and well-being of our student-athletes and all those connected to Pac-12 sports has been our number one priority since the start of this current crisis,” Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott said in a released statement. “Our student-athletes, fans, staff and all those who love college sports would like to have seen the season played this calendar year as originally planned, and we know how disappointing this is.”
The conference, which postponed all fall sports, said it would consider returning to competition for those sports impacted “when conditions improve,” happening no sooner than Jan. 1, 2021.
Scott noted that Pac-12 COVID-19 Medical Advisory Committee guidelines, along with state and local government orders, were followed in a situation that grew increasingly challenging.
“Unlike professional sports, college sports cannot operate in a bubble. Our athletic programs are a part of broader campuses in communities where in many cases the prevalence of COVID-19 is significant,” he said. “We will continue to monitor the situation and when conditions change we will be ready to explore all options to play the impacted sports in the new calendar year.
“We know that this is a difficult day for our student-athletes, and our hearts go out to them and their families,” Scott added. “We have made clear that all of their scholarships will be guaranteed, and that as a conference we are strongly encouraging the NCAA to grant them an additional year of eligibility.”
The announcement ends a run of 100 consecutive seasons that Utah has played football in the fall. The Utes were sidelined in 1918 because of a shortage of players (an abundance of World War I military deployments) and the Spanish influenza.
“We know this presents a significant disruption to so many of our student-athletes across multiple sport programs, and especially for our seniors in those sports,” Utah athletics director Mark Harlan wrote in a letter posted online. “For months we have been working diligently in consultation with top medical experts to create a safe path for competition in these sports to take place, and using all of the information and time available to us. However, with the challenges and complexities presented by COVID-19, the medical advice does not support conducting fall sports seasons.”
Harlan explained that his department’s attention will continue to focus on providing for the academic, emotional and physical well-being of student-athletes. “They will continue to prepare for their upcoming academic semester, and they will continue to have the same access to our first-class medical care, mental health care, academic support, nutrition and meals and scholarship support.”
Harlan acknowledged there is a great deal of disappointment involved with the decision.
“It was prudent that we make every effort possible to preserve the opportunity for our fall sports to compete in 2020. Our ability to serve our student-athletes is something we strive to preserve in every way possible, and our ability to do so is best served by having fall sports. I feel very confident that every responsible avenue was explored in this pursuit, and I support this very difficult decision made by the Pac-12 CEO Group,” he said.
Utah released a statement from head football coach Kyle Whittingham shortly after the official announcement.
“We’ve known for some time that this was a possibility, however, it is still disappointing news for our program, our fans and especially for our student-athletes,” Whittingham said. “We respect the guidance of the Pac-12 Medical Advisory Committee and the decision made today by the Pac-12 CEO group, and we will continue to put our focus on our players’ academics and their development. Our No. 1 priority is always the well-being of our players, and their health and safety come first.”
A sampling of player reaction on Twitter was expressed by quarterback Jake Bentley, a transfer from South Carolina.
“Life — 10% what happens to you. 90% how you respond to it. Not the decision we wanted, but NO reason to be defeated,” he tweeted. “Find positive in every situation. I’ll still be working to get better everyday.”
It’s been a busy and uncertain couple of weeks in college football, particularly in the Pac-12:
- July 11: The Pac-12 announced that several fall sports, including football, would play a conference-only schedule this year. Mandatory activities would also be delayed until sufficient positive data is gathered through a series of health and safety indicators.
- July 31: A 10-game football schedule for each team was released by the Pac-12. Utah’s season opener was supposed to be Sept. 26 at Washington State. The revamped schedule was created to “provide maximum flexibility” in the coronavirus pandemic.
- Aug. 2: A group of Pac-12 players had a lot of demands posted on The Players’ Tribune website. The manifesto, of sorts, began with the heading of “Health & Safety” and include requests for COVID-19 protections and mandatory standard enforced by a third party to address the coronavirus, serious injury, abuse and death.
- Aug. 8: The Pac-12 players behind the “WeAreUnited” movement expressed “disappointment” and said they were “deeply concerned” after a meeting with Scott. The group accused the commissioner of not taking their issues seriously enough.
“Without a discernible plan and mandates to ensure the health and safety of student-athletes, it is absurd, offensive, and deadly to expect a season to proceed,” the group said in an e-mail sent to the conference and media.
- Aug. 10: ESPN reports indicate that a medical discovery has fueled concern among conference administrators. Myocarditis, an inflammation of heart muscle, is being linked to COVID-19. If undiagnosed/untreated if can be fatal.