A lone fan sits in the stands during a Pac-12 football game in 2018 in Boulder, Colo. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

A lone fan sits in the stands during a Pac-12 football game in 2018 in Boulder, Colo. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

Pac-12 leaders cancel fall sports, including football

The league shuts down all athletic competitions until at least Jan. 1 due to the ongoing pandemic.

By Mike Vorel / The Seattle Times

It’s over.

For now.

Eleven days after the Pac-12 Conference introduced a 10-game, conference-only fall football schedule for the 2020 season, all athletic competitions have been shut down until at least Jan. 1, 2021. The vote from Pac-12 presidents on Tuesday was unanimous.

The conference’s release stated that “when conditions improve, it would consider a return to competition for impacted sports after Jan. 1, 2021.”

Until then, the longest offseason in modern college football history continues.

“This was an extremely difficult and painful decision that we know will have important impacts on our student-athletes, coaches, administrators and our fans,” Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott said in a media webinar on Tuesday afternoon. “I know nothing we can say will ease some of that disappointment, especially for some of our seniors.”

“While WSU supports this decision, there is a profound sadness and disappointment for our fall sports student-athletes, coaches and staff,” WSU athletics director Pat Chun said in a press release. “… This year continues to be a winding road with unforeseen twists and turns.”

The Pac-12 won’t walk down that road alone. The Big Ten also voted to postpone its fall sports season on Tuesday. The Mid-American and Mountain West Conferences opted to cancel their fall seasons in the last three days as well. The SEC, Big 12 and ACC are currently moving forward with a fall football season.

Scott confirmed that there were discussions surrounding further delaying or compressing the fall season, but “we came to the conclusion reluctantly that there’s no indication things are likely to change in terms of the criteria that influenced this in the next few weeks.” He added that the seismic loss of revenue associated with this decision “did not even come up in the conversation today with our presidents and chancellors. Obviously there are very significant impacts. But the health and safety is the first obligation and duty and the primary focus.”

Both Scott and Oregon president Michael Schill also asserted that Pac-12 programs will not explore other options for games outside the conference this fall.

Pac-12 athletes impacted by the fall seasons’ postponement will continue to have their scholarships honored. Additionally, Tuesday’s release emphasized that the conference “strongly encourages that the NCAA grant students who opt out of competition this academic year an additional year of eligibility.”

For the time being, each Pac-12 program is permitted to continue 20 hours of weekly meetings and walk-throughs with athletes and coaches. But Scott reiterated that “we can’t bubble our student-athletes like pro sports can.” And the Pac-12 Medical Advisory board, as well as the conference’s presidents, were ultimately uncomfortable with the prospect of full-contact practices and competitions.

“Essentially, by going into a contact season (we’d be) asking them right now to disregard a lot of the guidelines both federally and locally from the health department and the CDC to socially distance and physically distance to decrease the spread of this disease,” said Oregon State senior associate athletics director Dr. Doug Aukerman.

The Pac-12 vote comes one day after the Pac-12 Medical Advisory Board presented a document to Scott recommending Pac-12 programs “stop contact and competitive activities” until each institution can meet a set of mandatory criteria, University of Utah and Utah Jazz team physician Dr. Dave Petron told ESPN Radio 700 in Salt Lake City on Monday evening. The document listed the following three prominent medical issues preventing Pac-12 play:

1. Community prevalence remains very high in much of the Pac-12 footprint and traveling to many places is likely unsafe, particularly on commercial aircraft.

2. We are concerned about health outcomes related to the virus. Among these, there is new and evolving information regarding potential serious cardiac side effects in elite athletes. We do not have enough information to understand the short and long-term outcomes regarding these health issues.

3. Testing capacity needs to increase to allow for more frequent testing, performed closer to game time, and with more rapid turn-around time to prevent spread of infection and enhance the safety of all student-athletes, coaches, and staff involved, particularly in situations where physical distancing and mask wearing cannot be maintained. This will require access to significant capacity of point-of -care testing and rapid turn-around time, which is currently very limited.

ESPN published a story on Monday afternoon that stated that myocarditis — a rare heart inflammation 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 — gave voice to those concerns in a phone interview with The Times on Monday night.

“We’re hearing from colleagues at other Power Five institutions who are finding cases of myocarditis in their athletes who had asymptomatic or mild (COVID-19) infections,” said Drezner, who represents UW on the Pac-12 Medical Advisory Board. “It has really raised a concern within the medical community that there’s just a lot of unanswered questions that we need to learn more about as we think about sports.”

According to Drezner — the team physician for UW men’s basketball, track and field and cross-country, who also works with the Seattle Seahawks and OL Reign — myocarditis is responsible for roughly 9% of sudden cardiac deaths in college athletes. It can also cause rapid or abnormal heart rhythms or scar tissue in the heart.

The Pac-12 Medical Advisory Board’s document also included the following criteria that its programs must meet to potentially return to play:

— COVID 19 is not actively spreading uncontrolled among the school community

— Access and ability to complete cardiac evaluations on those who do test positive for COVID-19

— Testing access and capacity to satisfy testing recommendations, including the ability to test within 24 hours of competition and have results prior to that competition

— Capability to isolate new positive cases and quarantine high-risk contacts.

— Adequate local health care capacity as determined by local public health officials

— Ability to provide adequate care for the institution’s student-athletes

And so, for the first time since 1918, Washington won’t go forward with an official football season. No debut for Jimmy Lake. No Michigan or Oregon. No Apple Cup on the Friday after Thanksgiving. No sailgating on fall Saturdays outside of Husky Stadium.

No cross country or soccer or volleyball, and no non-conference men’s or women’s basketball games in the winter.

“We fully understand that this has tremendous human impacts,” said Schill. “We have students whose dream it was to play this year. That dream, at least in the fall, is not going to happen. We have families, we have coaches, we have all sorts of people who were hoping that we’d be able to do this. That’s one of the reasons why we delayed our decision until now, because we wanted to really give it the best shot.

“But in the end we looked at the recent cardiac evidence. We looked at spread, which was increasing in some of our areas. We looked at government directives, and we just said there’s too many questions. There’s too much uncertainty. So we will continue to assess, and hopefully we will be playing in the spring.”

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