On July 31, the Pac-12 unveiled a 10-game, conference-only fall 2020 football schedule.
Ten days later, that schedule may soon be scrapped.
On Monday, the Detroit Free Press reported that the Big Ten Conference has voted 12-2 to cancel its 2020 football season. A Big Ten spokesperson, meanwhile, reportedly told Yahoo Sports’ Pete Thamel that no such vote occurred. There has yet to be an official announcement from the conference.
The Big Ten’s seismic deliberations come two days after the Mid-American Conference, which resides in the same geographic footprint as the Big Ten, announced the cancellation of its fall football season. And on Monday afternoon, the Mountain West Conference — which holds regional ties to the Pac-12 — followed suit.
Dan Patrick reported separately on his national radio show that the Big Ten and Pac-12 will formally announce the cancellations of their seasons on Tuesday, according to a source. The Pac-12 presidents will not make any final decisions until their scheduled meeting on Tuesday at the earliest, per Jon Wilner of the Bay Area News Group.
The Times previously reported that all UW workouts on Monday had been canceled. In fact, the Huskies went ahead with small group strength and conditioning workouts, according to multiple sources. They did not complete full team on-field walk-throughs, which the program commenced in accordance with Pac-12 guidelines last week.
Those guidelines state that training camp could start as early as Aug. 17, with UW’s season opener coming inside Husky Stadium against Stanford on Sept. 26.
But, in an interview with ESPN Radio 700 in Salt Lake City on Monday evening, University of Utah and Utah Jazz team physician Dr. Dave Petron said that the Pac-12 Medical Advisory board had just presented a document to commissioner Larry Scott recommending Pac-12 programs “stop contact and competitive activities” until they can meet a list of mandatory criteria.
That criteria center around point-of-care testing that would allow institutions to receive results within 24 hours. The list also includes access to a complete cardiac evaluation, ability to isolate and quarantine positive cases and adequate health care capacity in the local community.
“I really think it comes down to testing,” Petron said. “As you know, we can’t put these people in a bubble. I know there’s arguments — would they be safer if we stop football and they’re just on their own and not getting tested and going to parties? I think there’s a lot of room for debate with that. I can tell you a lot of players really want to play football, and there’s a lot of players that have anxiety about playing football.”
When asked if players might ultimately be more safe adhering to the testing and protocols of a college football program than if the season were abruptly canceled, Petron responded: “If we can do these resumption-of-contact and -competition requirements that I just talked about, I think they’d be very safe.”
It seems that Scott Frost agrees. Even if the Big Ten season is canceled, Nebraska’s head football coach said in a news conference on Monday it’s possible his team could still play this fall.
“We want to play a Big Ten schedule. I hope that’s what happens,” Frost said. “Our university is committed to playing no matter what — no matter what that looks like and how that looks.
“We want to play no matter who it is and where it is. So we’ll see how those chips fall. We certainly hope it’s in the Big Ten. If it isn’t, I think we’re prepared to look for other options.”
Statuses for fall football seasons in the SEC, ACC and Big 12 remain uncertain.
Shortly after 11 a.m. Monday, SEC commissioner Greg Sankey tweeted: “Best advice I’ve received since COVID-19: ‘Be patient. Take time when making decisions. This is all new & you’ll gain better information each day.’ @SEC has been deliberate at each step since March…slowed return to practice…delayed 1st game to respect start of fall semester…Developed testing protocols…
“We know concerns remain. We have never had a FB season in a COVID-19 environment. Can we play? I don’t know. We haven’t stopped trying. We support, educate and care for student-athletes every day, and will continue to do so … every day.”
When the conference’s revamped fall schedules were announced on July 31, Pac-12 Commissioner Larry Scott was asked flatly about his level of confidence about a college football season.
“I’ll approach the answer to that question with a lot of humility, and … I don’t know,” said Scott, who contracted and recovered from COVID-19 last month. “I think we are all trying to take a step at a time. We are cautiously optimistic, sitting here today. But there are elements outside our control that are going to have a lot of influence on that question.
“What’s happening in our communities? What’s happening in our campuses? A lot of that has to do with mask-wearing, social distancing. What happens when thousands of students come back to our campuses? None of us have the answer to that question.”
Ten days later, the questions seem to have multiplied. An ESPN report on Monday afternoon stated that myocarditis — a rare heart condition that could be linked to COVID-19 — has been found in at least five Big Ten athletes as well as several athletes in other conferences, according to two sources with knowledge of the athletes’ medical care.
Dr. Jonathan Drezner — director of the UW Medicine Center for Sports Cardiology and a UW team physician — reportedly told ESPN that the concern surrounding myocarditis has “made the bar higher” for returning to fall sports, “and it could be we don’t get there.”
Drezner is notably the team physician for UW men’s basketball, track and field and cross-country, while also working with the Seattle Seahawks and OL Reign. Throughout the pandemic, he has represented UW on the Pac-12 COVID-19 Medical Advisory Committee.
Myocarditis — an inflammation of the heart muscle — can result in rapid or abnormal heart rhythms if left undiagnosed or untreated, according to the Mayo Clinic. In severe cases it may lead to sudden cardiac arrest, which can be fatal. The ESPN report states that “it is a rare condition, but the COVID-19 virus has been linked with myocarditis with a higher frequency than other viruses, based on limited studies and anecdotal evidence since the start of the pandemic.”
Players and politicians could also ultimately influence the conferences’ decisions. Two days after the schedules were announced, a group of players — formally known as the #WeAreUnited movement, and including UW outside linebacker Joe Tryon and wide receiver Ty Jones — threatened to opt out of the 2020 season if demands surrounding COVID-19 protocols, racial injustice, player compensation, eligibility guarantees and more were not met. The Big Ten’s players followed with a similar uprising as well.
On Sunday, after reports surfaced that the season could be canceled, star Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence used the hashtag #WeWantToPlay on social media to advocate for its survival. Unsurprisingly, the hashtag spread to programs and conferences throughout the country. By late Sunday night, the #WeAreUnited and #WeWantToPlay movements had officially merged.
Lawrence and many others distributed a statement calling for the following:
Universal health and safety protocols to protect against COVID-19 in all conferences
The opportunity for players to opt out of the 2020 season
Guaranteed eligibility preservation for any player who chooses to opt out
The eventual formation of a college football players association “representative of the players of all Power 5 conferences”
On Monday morning, President Donald Trump even quote-tweeted Lawrence and added: “The student-athletes have been working too hard for their season to be cancelled. #WeWantToPlay”
It’s unclear to what degree the player — and president? — movement has influenced the thinking of university presidents. But on July 31, Pac-12 football was scheduled for the fall. Now it needs a Hail Mary to resume on Montlake.
“I think over the next seven, 10, 14 days, there’s going to be more clarity on what the circumstances have to be for us to even be able to do contact practice,” UW athletics director Jen Cohen said in a phone interview with The Times last Thursday.
“We have a plan. Nobody has come out and said that we’re guaranteeing that we’re playing football or fall sports. The plan has always been that we’ll do those things in coordination with Pac-12 advisory and local public health officials, and that has not changed just because we announced the (revised conference-only football) schedule.”