Pac-12 CEOs plan to vote today on 2020 football season

Later today, the Pac-12 presidents and chancellors will cast the most significant vote since conference expansion.

We learned long ago not to assume anything when the CEOs convene for a decision on athletics, much less two decisions.

Really, this is a two-for-one gathering.

Will they play football in 2020?

And if so, when will they start?

Do the teams move together on Nov. 7, or will a few open on Halloween?

Because of lingering issues with health restrictions in California and Oregon — despite what those governors said last week — the situation isn’t as clean as the presidents would prefer. Contingencies might be required.

But that matter is secondary to the fundamental decision of whether the Pac-12 should play.

In our view, the answer is clear.

The conference should restart the season as soon as possible even though many of the schools have told students the classrooms aren’t safe.

In college football as in life, nothing is simple with coronavirus.

The website aptly stated: “Every decision is a risk. Every risk is a decision.”

The issue facing the Pac-12 isn’t whether playing football is safe. It’s whether playing football is safer for the athletes than not playing.

Those who would prefer to opt out have that choice. Their scholarships are guaranteed. Their eligibility is not in jeopardy.

But those who want to play should be allowed to do so. The conference has solved the health-and-safety piece.

The rapid-results antigen tests produced by Quidel and due on the campuses by the end of the month will limit the need for contact tracing and quarantines and keep infected players off the field.

(Whether you believe the conference should have access to the antigen tests is another matter entirely, one that we explored Wednesday morning with Quidel’s CEO, Doug Bryant.)

The ability to keep players safe isn’t the only argument for playing.

The economic stakes are momentous, too.

And there’s this: The health risks to the players that would come with not playing.

Imagine a scenario in which the presidents vote against restarting the season, either because they don’t have the stomach, the passion or the patience.

They play into the suppressed fear of every diehard Pac-12 fan.

Duke’s playing. Northwestern’s playing. Vanderbilt’s playing. Schools with top-10 academic reputations and bottom-10 football passion are playing.

But the Pac-12 is not, and the conference heads into the abyss until spring practice.

Fine. Then what?

Untethered from football obligations for months while their peers around the county compete weekly, the players lose their way.

Without the self-discipline that comes with performing, they become less cautious. Judgement wanes.

Without the accountability enforced by daily team activities, they engage more thoroughly in society.

Maybe some head home, which is fraught with its own risks. Siblings coming in and out of the house. Extended family members visiting. Gatherings with friends. They work out in gyms at the local strip mall.

What about their nutrition?

What about their mental health?

Take away their passion, their identity, and the consequences are severe — more severe, by far, than the consequences of playing.

They are safer with their teammates, on the field and in the football facility, than anywhere else.

This is not about optics, about the student body at large living at home while the athletes play on.

If the schools had acquired the testing capacity to keep theatre majors safe, they wouldn’t think twice about flipping on the stage lights.

Forget about what should or should not happen and focus on what has happened: With approval of the presidents and chancellors, the schools acquired the means to keep their athletes safe.

The Hotline has devoted many hours to understanding the health-and-safety issues over these past six months, and our opinion has evolved (as has the science).

We interviewed George Rutherford, a UCSF professor of biostatistics and epidemiology, about testing.

We chatted with Carl Bergstrom, a Washington professor and infectious disease specialist, about testing.

We spoke to the Pac-12’s lead medical advisors, Oregon State’s Doug Aukerman and Washington’s Kim Harmon,  about what was required to restart the season and why the Quidel antigen tests will keep the players safe.

We spoke to Arizona professor David Harris about the stellar testing results from his months-long program in the university’s Biorepository.

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