The original intent of this column was, in essence, to praise the Pac-12. Sure, the conference isn’t perfect, but I understood and even applauded their apparent desire to put player safety above all else.
Even though the beginning of football, basketball and other seasons seems imminent and sooner than the January 1, 2021 date we were provided a handful of weeks ago, I was set to argue that the often-maligned conference actually did the right thing.
In some ways, perhaps they even did. But as more details come out about what led to the long postponement and now the troubles of getting started again, that column wouldn’t make much sense.
Did Larry Scott and the rest of those in charge handle things correctly? Perhaps, at least to a point. But as we race toward the end of September with the Pac-12 now the only Power 5 conference to not have a plan to get back on the field, it’s hard not to look at everything with not only confusion, but disgust.
It’s true that there was no blueprint for starting up sports, and you could make the case that the conferences that have already started up are not exactly doing a great job.
The Big 12, for instance, has had to cancel games such as this weekend’s Baylor vs. Houston matchup after already postponing a game against Louisiana Tech because of that team’s issue with COVID-19. Texas Tech has seen its number of positive cases continue to rise.
As more teams start to get ready for seasons, especially with students on campus, it seems like more stories like those will come out.
Regardless, it would appear that in terms of dealing with COVID-19, the Pac-12 has at the very least not been a disaster.
But as it pertains to life after COVID-19, or really just being able to find a way to play through it, the conference may as well have been the movie Cats.
In the last few days we’ve seen a report from the Athletic’s Bruce Feldman that had Pac-12 coaches (anonymously) taking shots at the conference’s lack of preparation, especially given the idea of games happening within two months.
The language was often colorful, but the point was clear: the Pac-12 is nowhere near ready to return to the field.
And yet, now that the Big Ten has announced its intention to play ball, the Pac-12 is racing to keep up and join in on the fun.
Whereas once it seemed as though the conference was taking a cautious and responsible approach, it now appears it is ready to go full steam ahead with little regard for what actually makes sense.
According to recent reports, the league is likely to target an October 31 start date. That would give teams a little more than one month to get ready for whatever kind of schedule they are told to play. That’s barely enough time for the teams who have had workouts and some semblance of practices over the last couple months, which is not the entirety of the conference.
Though, the idea that Stanford may not want any part of a fall season and schools like Utah and USC are considering moving forward without the Pac-12 won’t do much to bolster the plan’s chances.
Assuming Arizona is part of the Pac-12’s plan, they could actually be in worse shape. The lack of an offseason was likely tougher on them than other schools, with an entirely new defensive coaching staff that could do nothing as a mass exodus occurred on that side of the ball. Yet, at least they’ve at least been able to do some things to get ready for a season.
To be fair the guess here is that whether their teams are ready or not, most fans will just be happy to see them back on the field. Besides, besides the fact that injuries are a natural part of the game, it may not be possible to know what issues are directly related to a hurried offseason.
That offseason is one that Scott, often a target of criticism, would likely see end as soon as possible.
The Oregonian’s John Canzano has not helped.
Canzano often writes about Scott’s follies, a well from which he can often pull from. Whether it’s the revelation that he foolishly put the Pac-12’s headquarters in one of the most expensive areas he could or, now, that he made sure the conference paid out roughly $4 million in bonuses about a month before laying off or furloughing nearly 100 conference staff, the hits have just kept on coming.
Scott did not have the best reputation to begin with, and much of the recent anger could be viewed as simply piling on by some, or maybe the cherry on top for others.
The one thing it could not be seen as is unwarranted, and now rumors are circulating that Scott himself expects to be out of a job in the near future.
A move that would be celebrated by many, it is likely long overdue.
Faced with the biggest challenge of his tenure, COVID-19, Scott arguably did a solid job. But he was ill-prepared to do anything other than shut things down, with that lack of foresight now being exposed daily.
Add in the other “scandals” and you likely know all you need to in order to form an opinion.
Then again, what happens when the games start?
People want Pac-12 football, and if the conference can get a season going this fall, play through it without any COVID-19 outbreaks and even send a team (say, Oregon?) to the College Football Playoff, much of the recent drama may be forgotten about.
In fact, at that point one could maybe squint hard enough and see a Larry Scott who did a solid job.
That’s the hope, anyway. Because as of now it’s hard to look at the conference and feel like it has qualified leadership and an actual plan to get through this difficult time.