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Arizona AD Dave Heeke still ‘bullish’ on football, fall sports happening in 2020

arizona-wildcats-dave-heeke-kevin-sumlin-firing-budget-buyout-coronavirus-deficit-football-2020 Photo by Jacob Snow/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The Pac-12 bought itself some time by shifting fall sports to conference-only schedules, thereby delaying the start of the season from late August to late September or maybe even October.

But eventually it will have to make some tougher decisions, like pushing fall sports to the spring.

The conference isn’t there yet, but it’s getting close.

“We’re getting close to clutch time, we really are,” Arizona Wildcats athletic director Dave Heeke said in an interview with Steve Rivera and Jay Gonzales on Eye on the Ball. “... I‘m optimistic. I am bullish. We want this to happen in the fall. We have not entertained a spring schedule, really. That’s always there. It’s kind of up on the shelf. We know it’s there and we can move to it, but let’s exhaust every ounce of possibilities for the fall.”

Part of Heeke’s optimism stems from the state of Arizona recently seeing a decline in daily coronavirus cases after a major spike in late June. He’s also watched as other sports leagues have successfully returned to play this week, including Major League Baseball.

“Baseball is interesting because they’re going to go city to city, they’re gonna travel, so that is an excellent test case for us to see how it can work,” Heeke said. “We learn about the non-fan environment. We learn about what they’re doing with players.”

Since student-athletes are not pros, Heeke acknowledged that restricting them to a bubble and monitoring their every move like the NBA is doing in Walt Disney World is not an option.

So if college sports are going to be played this fall, players, coaches, and communities have to be held accountable.

Some Pac-12 schools, like Cal and Washington State, have canceled in-person classes for the foreseeable future, but the UA announced Thursday that campus will be open for the fall semester, with over 50 percent of classes having an in-person component.

The UA has only registered three coronavirus cases since 83 football players began on-campus workouts in June, but will they able to maintain that momentum when thousands of students flock back to school?

“If we want to play, if they want to participate in the things that they love, there’s a responsibility that they need to exhibit, there’s accountability, there are things they have to do,” Heeke said. “They have to accept a different lifestyle if they want that. If they’re unwilling to do that, this is not going to work. If fraternities or sororities or people want to go out and do things and not think about the greater good, it’s not going to work. We’re going to close down schools. Again, I want to play, I want to try to get fans, I want it to work, so I’m pretty no nonsense about it. Either you do it or you don’t, right? It can’t work both ways.”

Heeke praised Arizona football players for staying disciplined to this point, but noted that is only a fraction of the student-athlete population. The rest has yet to report to campus.

“We’ve got to test all of those soccer players, we’ve got to test the volleyball players, we got to have control over what they’re doing,” Heeke said. “We want to make it safe for them. We want their parents to feel confident in allowing their child to come here and compete and be in a really safe environment. So it’s complex, there’s a lot of moving parts, but we’re determined to find ways for it to work out.”

Either way, Heeke doubts this fall season, if it happens, will be anything close to normal.

“I do think that under the current climate and reading the tea leaves, our crowd sizes, the capacity is reducing,” he said. “I think it’s going to be hard to get to 50 percent. I think we’re creeping back to a much smaller number of people attending any of our events, whether that’s football or soccer or volleyball. Lots of social distancing, lots of procedures and protocols. When we think about food service, and we think about parking, we think about tailgating, all of those things are going to be modified dramatically. It’s going to be a much different experience, but we do hope we can have an experience where people can come and at least support the team and watch the team and be part of it.”